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The Problem with Charity

I’m often asked to perform at charity functions, and I almost always decline. The more you’re made aware of a disease, the more you realize that a lot of people are making a bank heist of money off your contributions to their foundation.

This May, I was in my usual spot on the couch in Bisbee, Arizona, drinking plastic jug vodka and watching CNN jam microphones into the faces of distraught victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. They all thanked the Jesus for sparing them, for taking their homes and belongings instead of their lives, and for killing their neighbors instead of them.

There was a video that had just gone viral of Wolf Blitzer repeatedly asking a meek and polite young lady if she thanked the Lord for her good fortune in not being killed. She stammered and then said, cute as a button, "Actually, I'm an atheist." As always, Wolf looked like a big smacked dick.


As I was watching, a crawler at the bottom of screen told me how to send money to the Red Cross via text message. I thought how funny it would be to have a fundraiser for just that one chick—fuck all her Okie-Christian neighbors. They're with God. We're atheists. We don't have Christ. We gotta take care of each other.

CNN is very fickle in how long they give a fuck about any given tragedy, so I jumped on the computer, figured out how to use a fundraising site—not an easy task for a guy who still uses Hotmail—and by morning had "Atheists Unite" on A few tweets and Facebook posts later from myself and thousands of other ordinary, caring people—plus some big shots like the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Penn Jillette, and Ricky Gervais—and the virtual cash register started chiming away.

$50,000 dollars in the first day, almost $126,000 by the time it was done. Enough for her to move the fuck out of Jesus country—where she says she'll never return—like Tom Joad with a trust fund.

I can't remember being happier in a shitload of years, repeatedly hitting refresh in those first days and seeing the numbers go up every minute. Charity feels good, even when you're doing it as a big “Fuck You” to Christians who you've pre-judged, and not because you care about someone losing their shit. Realizing you've actually changed an individual's life. It was pretty goddamned thrilling.

You don't get the same feeling when you buy the pink label mustard at Safeway in October. That just makes you think your lottery ticket has better karma. You won't open the paper the next morning expecting headlines that breast cancer has been defeated because you ate a ham sandwich.


I've noticed that the more you’re made aware of a disease, the more you realize that a lot of people are making a bank heist of money from you supporting their foundation. Having a cause is chump work. Having a foundation is where you make the salad.

Nobody is a bigger wishing-well penny-catcher than the Breast Cancer Awareness carnies and the road agents that bear the hideous ribbon. Their motives are questionable, what they promote is dangerous. They don't so much want to prevent cancer as make sure you look for it, find any early stage of it, and treat it. Prevention would be bad for business.

I’m often asked to perform at charity functions and I almost always decline, because the type of people who attend charity functions are the exact opposite of my target audience. "Thanks for coming out to help little Billy's lymphoma laugh-athon. But did you ever think life isn't really worth living anyway?" The big novelty thermometer on the stage showing the amount raised would start dropping with every word I said.

Another paranoia I get is that I often find that the most charitable people are unknown artists who want you to come to a show that you don’t want to see, or buy a download of a song you don’t want to hear to "help the victims" of such and such. It's one thing to be Sting using your fame to bring attention to a cause. It's quite another to use a famous tragedy to get your attention. And I am no Sting on the fame level.


There's a worldwide group called the Women in Black who are against bad things in general, war and bombing and the like. I remember seeing them every Wednesday in Trafalgar square when I was doing a lengthy run in London, five or six of them standing in the rain and cold around a statue, silent and maudlin (and in black, of course) with handmade signs doing their preaching. I envied them. To have a cause that you are so committed to yet still be content in doing so little about.

"This is bad. It has to stop. Let's stand around once a week and do absolutely nothing. PS: No men allowed." And then go home with all the self-satisfaction of someone who bought a pink Dallas Cowboys jersey off the NFL website and felt like a war hero.

Remember that in a free-market society, there is already a financial incentive for someone to find a cure for cancer on their own. Pfizer didn't come up with boner pills because of candlelight vigils and flaccid-cock symbols on juice boxes—they knew there was money in it. If you want to throw money at a disease, try donating to a disease almost nobody has and therefore nobody is trying to cure like Tree Man and Cock Face or the guy with the 130-pound balls. Almost nobody has these diseases and it'll be a long time before the NFL has players wearing bark jockstraps to raise awareness.

Me, I prefer to spend my charitable donations close to home, where you see the results, or on individuals where you can see the smile on their faces. Most people are assholes so maybe cancer's only sin is the collateral damage.

Doug is on a comedy tour, and you can get the dates at his website. Also, follow him on Twitter: @dougstanhope

More on the virtues of charity:

Bob Odenkirk's Page: Most Neediest Forgotten Charities

Mother Teresa Was a Jerk, and So Were a Bunch of Other Saints