Earlier this month, Jason Sudeikis was cast as George Bailey for the live table reading of the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, benefitting The Ed Asner Family Center (TEDFC) on Dec. 5. With Sudeikis stepping into the shoes of a role famously portrayed by James Stewart and steering the ship alongside an all-star cast — including Kathy Bates, Rosario Dawson, Mark Hamill, Martin Sheen and Mandy Patinkin — actor and comedian Ron Funches is also joining in on the festive fun. In an exclusive chat with PopCulture.com, Funches told us just why the Ted Lasso star makes the perfect George Bailey for the virtual event.
"He's an everyman. He's beautiful," the comedian told PopCulture. "He's one of the best everyman actors. You see yourself in him, no matter who you are. He took his sweetness and his vulnerability and his heart showed through and then that is something that allows you to be a character that can take on those types of things, to have these different faults and different traits that people just relate to. I mean, Jason's just amazing. It's not hard for me to see. Of course, you look at him, you go, 'I love that guy. I want to hang out with that guy.'"
Funches, who has only met Dawson "once or twice," says meeting the cast will be a "new" experience for him. "I just feel, in some ways, I'm just like, 'Do I even belong in this big group of wonderful people?' But as my therapist would say, 'I do belong or I wouldn't be there,'" he smiled. "So I'm excited to be a part of it. It's something you can't take away from me. It's going to be a big memory for me for the rest of my life."
Knowing well that the film has been a staple for families every Christmas, Funches says all the love for the film is "beautiful" to witness, especially all these years later. "I think especially with a lot of films, but especially Christmas films, we tie them to our childhood memories," he said. "We tie them to very special and wonderful moments in our lives when we get to open gifts and have fun and be so carefree and I think the response has been amazing for people. The fact that people were like, 'Forget the Table Read, just make it.' I was like — that's such a beautiful, big response, and I'm very excited. I know I would feel the same way if they did my Elf. I'm an Elf guy myself. So if they redid Elf, I'd be all about that."
While he has not seen the 1946 classic by director Frank Capra just yet and is unclear of who he will be playing at the moment, he admits not knowing much about the story behind the beloved film was just one of the reasons why he wanted to do it. "I will [know] by the time we do the Table Read, but that was one of the things that made me want to do it. I know it's a classic, I know it's a wonderful film, but it's before my time," he said. "I'm not a big older Christmas movie watcher, so I'm going to go back and watch it with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday to prepare, and I think it's going to be a very fun experience for me. But to be honest with you, all they said was, 'We want you to do this thing for The Ed Asner Family Center.' And it was a quick yes from me."
Praising Asner for being such an influential part of his own comedic life, Funches adds one of the prime reasons for taking part was because he was asked by TEAFC, calling it a true honor. Sharing how he has been a fan of the icon for as long as he can remember, Funches said when the foundation had reached out, it was an automatic yes. "Once I moved out to Los Angeles and got more involved in the community, it's been nice to be involved with the Center. I've done their Poker Nights a few years in a row and I met Ed on occasion and said hello to him, and with his unfortunate passing, I'm always looking for a chance to honor him," he said. "They mentioned to me how Ed enjoyed my work, and things of that nature, which I didn't even know if it was true — I didn't even know if they were telling me the truth. I was like, 'Whatever you say. I don't even know if he knew who I was.' But then when you see the whole cast, and it's a who's who, I'm like, 'Oh, they could have got anyone they wanted.' And I just feel very honored and very excited to be a part of it, especially for such a good cause."
The second annual virtual evening event, hosted by Tom Bergeron, will pay tribute to the late Asner and benefit his foundation, TEAFC, which promotes mental health and enrichment programs for children with special needs and their families. "The money that [audiences] give is going towards it, but if they want to research it and either donate more towards that foundation or see if some of the things that they provide can be useful for them, just to bring more awareness to this," he said of benefits for the center. "As my son — who's special needs as well, who was diagnosed with autism at a young age — it's a big reason why I just love working with this foundation."
Funches also states after the "rough year and a half" everyone has had, he hopes the Dec. 5 event will be a good time for audiences to "sit back" and just enjoy the time we get thanks to the vaccines. "Thanks to this time passing, thanks to luck and prayer and wonderful things that we're able to spend time with our family this Christmas, which wasn't the same for most of us last year," he said. "I know I didn't see my family last year. But the fact that I'm going to be able to see them this year, and you can sit and watch Christmas movie gets back to some type of normalcy, and that's really all I want them to take away, just fun, life fullness, and having a good time."
For a minimum donation of $25 this holiday season, your entire household can enjoy the exclusive It's a Wonderful Life experience. Audiences and fans of the event can also purchase commemorative holiday gift collections, including custom artwork and a limited edition T-shirt, all created specifically for this event. For superfans excited about the event, the collection will also include The Official Bailey Family Cookbook with recipes inspired by It's A Wonderful Life and a 75th Anniversary Blu-ray of the film. There will also be a silent auction with items perfect for the holiday season and a musical intermission.
For tickets, sponsorship and event information, visit the website for more details and how to watch with your own Zoom code. Tickets are now available starting at $25 USD.