By Alex Stedman – Variety
There’s no doubt that there was some seriously smart company at the UCLA Visionary Ball benefiting the university’s department of neurosurgery Oct. 25 at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, but MC and comedian Larry Miller had a request that may have been too hefty even for the trained brain surgery professionals.
“Can you do something about the brains in Washington?” he asked the surgeons.
The star-studded ball honored Steve Tisch, William Friedkin, Chuck Lorre, Rabbi David Wolpe and Dr. Richard Merkin at the gala, hosted by UCLA neurosurgery chairman Neil Martin.
Martin presented a demonstration of the importance of nerves in the brain. “These neurons in the human brain represent our best hope to conquer hunger and war and disease and heal the environment, all the things that human brain is going to have to do for us,” he explained, then joked about LA’s notorious traffic on a popular freeway. “Maybe even stop gridlock on the 405.”
Director James Burrows took the stage to pay tribute to Wolpe, who was receiving the 2013 Courage Award. Wolpe underwent brain surgery for a benign brain tumor.
Burrows was sure to take the time to joke about his Rabbi before presenting him with the award.
“What do you do when your Rabbi’s name comes up on your caller ID?” he asked. “You run through your sins, your transgressions, and more importantly, your donations.”
He later asked if that would count as a donation, and when Wolpe accepted his award, he assured him it would. Though he joked that he was receiving the “I didn’t die” award, he was serious about the subject for which he was receiving it: courage.
“Here’s what I want to tell you about courage,” he told the audience. “It’s not the assurance that everything will be well, because sometimes, things are not well. It’s the assurance that whatever happens, you will be strong enough to handle it.”
Before Tisch was awarded the 2013 Visionary Award, clips from some of his films, such as “Forrest Gump,” “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “The Weather Man,” rolled for the crowd. Friedkin wasn’t offered the same kind of tribute when he was awarded with the 2013 Visionary Icon Award, but he figured that was due to the nature of much of his work, including R-rated “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.”
“I was going to run some of my own film clips as Steve did, but they’re all X-rated,” he joked. “Just search your memory for some of the stuff that when on, and I think you’ll get it.”
The last award of the evening went to Lorre, who received the 2013 Rodney Respect Award, presented by Bob Newhart. The Rodney Respect Award is named in honor of comedian Rodney Dangerfield and his trademark “no respect” joke. He died in 2004, and was treated at UCLA before his passing.
His widow, Joan Dangerfield, spoke about the award on behalf of her late husband, and how he was afraid he wouldn’t be funny anymore after undergoing brain surgery.
“He said, ‘Honey, if I wasn’t in show business, I don’t know what I’d do,” she recalled Rodney saying. “’I’m too jealous to be your pimp.’”
Lorre continued the laughs when accepting his award. He joked that the show made him wish he had brain surgery, as the people who have “seem so happy after it,” and ended the show with a tongue-in-check prayer for brain surgeons.
“God, thank you for bringing surgeons. Please look after them. Guide their laser scalpels as they repair aneurysms, remove tumors and generally fix up your shoddy workmanship,” he said to a laughing crowd. “And most importantly, God, please see that they’re paid extraordinary amounts of money so they’re not burning with resentment while operating on the brains of middle-aged, college dropout sitcom writers who, quite unjustly, make so much more money than they do.”
Attendees were also treated to musical performances by Brad Carter and Randy Newman.