Aretha Franklin

Jamie Foxx, Jon Stewart & More Talk Taking Calls For 'Hand in Hand' Telethon Backstage

By the close of its one-hour broadcast Tuesday night (Sep. 12), Hand in Hand: A Benefit for Hurricane Relief Telethon raised more than $14.5 million to support victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But Jon Stewart, one of many A-list celebrities who took calls for the event, was impressed by another number: 

"How many calls I can answer in a 30-minute period," he told Billboard backstage at the event in New York City, laughing. "I broke my own record."

Jokes aside, though, Stewart and others took a moment offset at ABC Studios in Times Square to reflect on their participation in the telethon, which was broadcast on more than a dozen networks from simultaneous shows in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville.

"It's always the thing we forget, which is, when necessary and when times are down, we're not quite as at each others' throats as it's made to seem," Stewart continued. "The takeaway is generally that there's a baseline of decency that binds us in a way that's more comforting than not."

Bruce Willis also took to New York for the telethon, where he answered calls from across the country alongside stars like Questlove, Julianne Moore and Nicki Minaj.

"The conversations were all very fast, and all very promising," Willis told Billlboard. "Everybody I talked to, I think everybody who did talk all helped. It was very exciting."

For veteran actor Steve Buscemi, participating in the event was a "no-brainer." 

"As soon as you see the images, you just feel like you want to do something. Sometimes, it's hard to know how to help, so this was easy," he said, adding that he hoped to offer encouragement and thanks to those who called in to the event to donate.

The damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey across Texas hit close to the heart for The Autobiography rapper Vic Mensa, who said the city is home to many of his "idols of music," like UGK and Bun B -- who organized the event alongside Scooter Braun. "Houston and Texas hip-hop are one of the biggest influences to me, so that definitely is on my mind," Mensa explained.

Texas native Jamie Foxx was similarly torn by images on the news of devastation in his home state. "For anybody watching it, you feel horrible," he said. "You understand how small we are when it comes to Mother Nature." But the actor managed to find a message of hope among the chaos.

"Sometimes things like this happen to bring us together, happen to sort of have pause," he added.