The term "telethon," at least for me, brings to mind well-regarded comedians in suits barking orders through rotary phones. The charity events, pioneered by figures like Jerry Lewis, feel more than a little antediluvian. But according to Zosia Mamet, that's exactly why her husband Evan Jonigkeit decided to organize one to benefit the ACLU.
"I think they wanted to harken back to the days of yore with the concept of a telethon," Mamet told Refinery29 in an email. The event is called Stand For Rights: A Benefit For The ACLU, a buzzy Facebook Live event that will occur March 31. The fact that it takes place on Facebook may seem puzzling, but given the role the platform plays in out current political climate, it makes sense.
Mamet thinks the Facebook element brings the telethon into the present. "Being that that is a rather antiquated way of raising money for charity [Jonigkeit and his partner Eric Gurian] put a modern twist on it by putting it up on Facebook live," she said. To boot, Facebook Live entertains a younger audience, and perhaps a more diverse one. She added, "Social media platforms are certainly the new frontier and I think where younger generations go to consume their content."
Facebook Live is a nebulous platform. Content like Chewbacca Mom, an honest-to-goodness dispatch from an average Facebook user, performs just as well, if not better, than highly produced talk shows from publications like The New York Times — or R29. Stand For Rights won't be the first telethon to take to Facebook — a similar event called Love-a-thon aired on inauguration day this January, earning participation from celebrities like Jane Fonda, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Judd Apatow. As of now, the Facebook video for Love-a-thon has over a million views, which is a feat for the platform.
Like Love-a-thon, Stand For Rights will include more than a few of Hollywood's finest. According to the Facebook page, the telethon will include Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin, Ellie Kemper, Amy Poehler, and Tracy Morgan. The cover photo teases that Fred Armisen, Cecily Strong, and Steve Buscemi, among others will also be there.
Of course, celebrity-fueled charity events are nothing new. What makes these Facebook Live events different is that they're inherently political. Love-a-thon occurred during President Donald Trump's inauguration. And, make no mistake: The ACLU does not favor the current administration.
"It is...the collective will and tireless actions of 'we the people' that serve as a bulwark against unconstitutional and wrong-headed policies and executive orders," ACLU executive Antony Romero said in a statement regarding Stand For Rights. "By supporting our work through this telethon, we can fight even harder to defend the rights guaranteed by our Constitution." The message is coded, but clear: This telethon is more than just a few fun phone calls for charity. This is about standing up for the rights threatened by the Trump administration.
The political side of these Facebook telethons make the situation a bit hairier. In 2017, it's not uncommon to encounter the sentiment "celebrities should keep their noses out of politics." Actors should act, and comedians should comedy — no politics allowed. (This is a sentiment widely expressed in the comments on this very site.) For Mamet, though, celebrity begets politics.
"My husband and I are both big believers in using whatever 'celebrity' we have to speak out on issues we care about," she explained. What's that Spider-Man quote? With great power comes great responsibility. While Stand For Rights is largely Jonigkeit's project, Mamet masterminded her own charity efforts in January when Trump first signed the executive order putting the immigrant ban into motion. She collaborated with the yoga studio y7 to sell T-shirts featured a cross-legged Lady Liberty. The proceeds of the T-shirt sales also went to the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I found it sickly ironic that all of these horrors were taking place in a city [New York City] literally [compromised] entirely of immigrants," Mamet said.
"It is our job to create beauty and light in a time of true darkness," the Girls actress continued. "And we as artists also have a way to say things, and say them loudly and powerfully outside of the realm of politics." She's hopeful for the future, too. As harrowing as these past few months have been, the art that comes from this period is probably going to be mind-blowing.
"I would ask all artists, big and small, famous or unknown, to keep making their art, to keep expressing and speaking out in whatever way they can and maybe together we can grow a rose bush on top of this graveyard," Mamet implores.