Cheers' George Wendt roasted before all-star panel for charity

The Second City and Gilda’s Club Chicago celebrated a once in a lifetime evening at the comedy institution’s iconic Mainstage theater during a star-studded benefit, “I Can’t Believe They Wendt There: The Roast of George Wendt.” More than 230 guests dined, drank and donated while being entertained by a raucous panel of roasters and special guests that concluded with a surprise appearance by Chris Rock.

"People will talk about how special this evening was for years to come. It was a wonderful, hilarious, once-in-a-lifetime event that benefited two outstanding organizations in ways far beyond the monies raised, and cheers to George for being a great sport and a great friend to this community," said Andrew Alexander, CEO/executive producer, The Second City. Gilda's Club CEO LauraJane Hyde shared, “We are overwhelmed with gratitude to The Second City and all the celebrities who came out to roast our friend, George Wendt. The event was a fantastic way to support those impacted by cancer and honor Gilda Radner’s legacy of humor.”

After a red-carpet lineup featuring the night’s performers, the evening began in Second City’s 1959 Kitchen & Bar with a VIP cocktail reception and backstage tour, where members of the evening’s talent were on hand to mingle with guests. Just after 7pm, the show kicked off with a song performed by David Rasche followed by a welcome from Roastmaster Jason Sudeikis. After that, all bets were off and the evening unfolded into an almost four-hour night of side-splitting laughter, music, living legends and surprises.

In addition to “Man of the Hour” George Wendt, appearances by Bob Odenkirk, Julia Sweeney, David Koechner, Jeff Tweedy, Tim Kazurinsky, Joel Murray, Keegan-Michael Key, Betty Thomas and Robert Smigel brought down the house, as did Wendt’s wife of almost 40 years, Bernadette Birkett.

Additional highlights included a video montage from A-list friends including Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle, Olivia Wilde, Ed O’Neill and J.K. Simmons. Retired Cubs ace Ryan Dempster held court as Harry Caray, and Wendt’s “Cheers” co-star Ted Danson appeared via a special video message.

In the name of charity, the evening’s auctioneers David Koechner and Pat Finn brought out a revived panel of the iconic SNL “Super Fans,” and one lucky audience member became an honorary Swerski family member, mustache, sunglasses, and all. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy serenaded attendees with a rendition of “California Stars,” performed seat-side for the winning bidders.

The evening also contained poignant reminders of the mission behind the entertainment. Longtime Second City teacher and performer, Rachael Mason, spoke of The Second City Alumni Fund’s assistance with medical bills after emergency surgery, and Kelly Beeman, wife of beloved Second City teacher Judy Fabjance who recently lost her cancer battle, spoke of the support and resources she and her family were fortunate to find through both the honored charities.

Closing in on hour four, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog took the podium, only to be upstaged by a surprise appearance by Chris Rock who pledged an additional $10,000 towards fundraising efforts. After 11 pm, the entire cast rushed the stage for a rousing redemption of “The Goodnight Song” as the audience was sent out into the night.

The benefit raised over $200,000 for both charities, a number that continues to rise as online packages remain available to bid on through online auction site Charitybuzz. Several lots, including a pair of “SNL” tickets and lunch with Keegan-Michael Key, will close at 3:00pm (CST) on Tuesday, September 12 and can be found here.

George Wendt can next be seen in “Rock and Roll Man: The Alan Freed Story” at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Opening September 12. (Photos by Alina Tsvor).

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