The upcoming Amber Moonlit Night gala benefiting the Salem Animal Rescue League is a natural for Dave Rattigan. The comedian has appeared at plenty of dog park fundraisers, and last September he performed standup at a show for the Nashua Dog Owners Group — a/k/a D.O.G.
“The people from Salem even recruited me at a Lions Club benefit, so animals seem to be a recurring theme,” Rattigan said. “I’m helping to raise money so that people can stand around talking while their companion animals sniff each other.”
The organization tries something new with each annual benefit — music, cabaret, and in 2011, a magician. This time around, the hope is that laughter will do the trick. “This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Patricia Mack of SARL said, noting that money raised through the event and online auction provides critical support during winter, when pet adoptions often slip.
Rattigan will host an evening of comedy headlined by Patty Ross, a veteran comic with a caustic outlook on marriage and relationships. Ross made a mark in television on the original Rosanne show and worked as a character actress in films, including That’s My Boy and The Three Stooges.
“She’s very versatile,” Rattigan said, noting that Ross opened for Andrew Dice Clay in that comic’s heyday and is currently shooting Larry David’s improvised comedy Clear History with Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Kate Hudson and SNL’s Bill Hader.
Dave Russo, well known from his work on the NESN show Dirty Water, will also perform.
Salem Animal Rescue League is a limited admission shelter that does not euthanize for space, and is fully donor supported. It allows people experiencing severe personal and financial challenges — spousal abuse, home foreclosure, medical and other emergencies — to temporarily board their animals at no charge for up to three weeks.
Along with comedy, the benefit includes dinner, an auction and raffles, with all proceeds benefiting the many homeless animals under SARL’s care.
Rattigan is the show’s producer. “I started my own production company after my child was born, basically so I wouldn’t have to go on the road all the time,” he said. He’s taught standup comedy at a local community college, with students including Nashua comedian Alana Susko, who cites Rattigan as key to her break into the laughing game. Though no longer a comedy professor, Rattigan continues to teach public speaking.
He was a latecomer to standup comedy. “I was a sportswriter, I covered the Super Bowl, won awards and somehow became a comedian when I was 36,” said Rattigan. “That’s where I went wrong. It was right when the comedy boom went bust, and people would always talk about how great it used to be, how much money they used to make on Wednesday nights.”
These days, comedy is a lot like the arts scene, said Rattigan. “Then, there were a handful of bookers and clubs and just a few guys doing the suburban rooms. Now, there are so many little different bookers.”
This creates opportunity, and that’s not always a good thing. “One person can do a set, videotape it on their phone, post it to YouTube and say ‘I am a comedian,’” Rattigan said. “You don’t have to go through the gauntlet, get approval. On the one hand it’s liberating. But if you’re a consumer it’s hard to judge.”
The caliber of the region’s top tier of talent is formidable, however. “When you talk about local comedians, people don’t realize how good they are,” Rattigan said. “Boston comedians are among the best in the country.”