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He’s money: Vaughn and company fill Stepan

Joe Piarulli | Monday, October 10, 2005

The Stepan Center was wild with laughter Saturday night as actor Vince Vaughn brought four acclaimed comedians and three special guests to campus for a sold-out two-hour “Wild West” comedy show.

Vaughn emceed the event, which began with Ahmed Ahmed, a comedian originally from Egypt who joked about his difficulties as an Arab American – especially in terms of getting on an airplane.

Following Ahmed was the first guest of the night, producer Peter Billingsley. Billingsley played Ralphie Parker in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story” and is one of Vaughn’s best friends. The two acted out a scene from an ABC After School Special they acted in together, in which a young Vaughn confronted Billingsley about steroid abuse.

Sebastian Maniscalco then took the stage and generated big responses with jokes ranging from shopping at a lousy store to having a “text message war.”

Vaughn’s second guest was actor Justin Long, known for his roles in films such as “Jeepers Creepers,” “Galaxy Quest” and “Dodgeball.” Vaughn called up two students from the crowd to take their best dodgeball shots at Long, who managed to avoid all attempts but one. The two actors then reenacted a scene from Vaughn’s breakout film, “Swingers,” with Long playing Trent (Vaughn’s character) and Vaughn playing Mike (Jon Favreau’s character).

Ohio native John Caparulo and New Jersey Italian Bret Ernst rounded out the comedic lineup, putting unique spins everything from dogs to the bar scene to roller skating.

Vaughn’s final guest was actor Keir O’Donnell. O’Donnell played Todd Cleary, a homosexual painter who takes a special interest in Vaughn’s character in the 2005 box office smash “Wedding Crashers.” Vaughn coaxed O’Donnell into painting crowd-suggested images, such as “Booty Call.” Vaughn signed the final painting, entitled “Celebration,” and gave it to a member of the audience after acting out the scene from “Wedding Crashers” in which the “Celebration” painting plays a major role.

Vaughn brought the night to a close himself, leading the audience in a karaoke performance of “Sweet Caroline.”

According to Student Union Board (SUB) Manager Jimmy Flaherty, there were about 1,900 people engaged in that sing-a-long – judging by the number of tickets sold to the event, a vast majority of which went to Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students.

SUB and the Student Activities Office (SAO) made the show possible. According to Flaherty, the show was essentially a rental to a promoter doing a tour. The Student Activities Office negotiated the rental fee to offset the costs of production.

“It’s a great way to do events like this,” Flaherty said, “because it takes the financial risk to SUB and negates it.”

In other words, neither SAO nor SUB turned any profit from the event, as all ticket sales went to the promoter.

“It was structured as a break-even proposition from the University’s side as to provide a service to the student body by bringing in a large-name performance,” Flaherty said.

There isn’t much doubt that Vince Vaughn is a big name after films like “Old School,” “Dodgeball” and the year’s top comedy, “Wedding Crashers.” However, Vaughn has not forgotten where his film career started. The echoes of “Rudy” chants are still alive and well at Notre Dame, Flaherty said, Vaughn’s connection with that film was a major reason why the show was possible at all.

“It just worked out that the promoter wanted to come here due to [Vaughn’s] tie-in with Rudy,” Flaherty said.

Notre Dame’s location also helped make the show possible, as the stop before Notre Dame was Detroit and the stop after is Milwaukee.

“The promoter establishes the schedule for the tour and they obviously route the tour appropriately so that they aren’t zigzagging across the country,” Flaherty said. “The date became non-negotiable from our end since the availability of a venue was limited and even still the logistics were tough with Relay for Life in Stepan in the morning. SUB volunteers were able to get in there early … and provide extra hands to make it work.” While it has been quite a while since a similar show with such a big name has come to Notre Dame (“Hardball” with Chris Matthews filmed here in 2003), Flaherty says students have many more to anticipate.

“SUB is always looking for events like this,” he said. “We have a few things in mind and I’m confident the campus will have more fun soon.”

So far, SUB’s hard work seems to have paid off, as the response from students like freshman Clarissa Negrete has been overwhelming.

“It was awesome. Some guy was laughing so hard he fell out of his chair,” Negrete said.

Negrete said while the show did not feature a dull moment, there were a few highlights.

“[At some parts] I was crying because I was laughing too hard,” she said. “I thought it was cool how they had actors like the guy from ‘Wedding Crashers’ come in – that was really unexpected.”

According to Negrete, the show was well worth the steep $30 ticket price.

“It was kind of expensive, but I don’t regret it,” she said.

Flaherty said Negrete is in the majority.

“We’ve had nothing but positive responses to the event, both before, but especially after,” Flaherty said. “We sold over 900 tickets in the first three hours of sales, so that shows how popular this event was with campus.”

Apparently, the event was popular with more than just students. Vaughn and company had time to tour Notre Dame’s campus, and according to Flaherty, they enjoyed both the University and the crowd on Saturday night.

“Everything was very positive,” Flaherty said, “The comedians thought that the crowd responded very well, they loved the ND atmosphere, and considering how smooth it went, no one had anything but positives to say.”

Freshman Elise Yahner said the comedians’ positive response to the Notre Dame community was a pleasant shock.

“The fact that the show came to the Notre Dame campus was surprising enough, but the three actors who came along with Vince Vaughn were surprising as well. Seeing them was great,” she said. “Also, after the show, Vince Vaughn and the other performers in the show came from backstage to sign autographs and talk to the fans. That was the best surprise of all.”