Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd, Rob Riggle and David Koechner: Homegrown celebrities kick off Big Slick

Kansas City native and actor Paul Rudd had cheerful words Friday for Aubrie Sanborn, 4, of Wichita at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Kansas City native and actor Paul Rudd had cheerful words Friday for Aubrie Sanborn, 4, of Wichita at Children’s Mercy Hospital. The Kansas City Star

David Koechner of “Anchorman” fame walked in first and let out a loud “wooooo!” when he saw the room full of reporters and cameras.

Right behind came Rob Riggle, Jason Sudeikis and Paul Rudd, founders of the Big Slick charity event that raises money every year for Children’s Mercy.

Boys will be boys. When they figured out that the chairs they were sitting in could be adjusted, Riggle and Sudeikis fiddled with theirs, moving them up and down.

But the four funnymen, all dads now, got serious quickly when the hospital’s pediatrician-in-chief, Michael Artman, set the stage for the two-day, celebrity-filled weekend that wraps up Saturday with a bowling tournament and show at the Midland theater.

Artman was there to remind everyone why Big Slick, which organizers say has raised $1.5 million in the last four years, is important to the hospital’s cancer center: Sometime today or maybe tomorrow, another child will be diagnosed with cancer.

“How do I know that?” Artman said. “Well, we see it every other day, 365 days a year, we get a newly diagnosed child with cancer. Put yourself in that family’s shoes.

“We tell this family their child has cancer. So right there, boom, we’ve just shattered their hopes and dreams. We’ve crushed their spirit. So that’s the bad news.”

The good news, he said, is that the hospital will unleash all of its resources and organize its troops — more than 20 cancer specialists and teams of surgeons, pathologists, nurses and others — to take care of that child “as though he or she is our own.”

“And we’re going to piece back together those broken, shattered dreams and hopes. We’re going to take those shards and knit them back together over days and weeks and months, restore that child’s hope and restore that child’s life so that they can go on and do the things that these guys do and be successful members of society.”

Swept up by the doctor’s passion, Koechner, the father of five, seemed to be almost in tears.

Artman went on, talking about the buzz among the hospital staff and the parents when it’s time for the Big Slick celebrities to come to town. Last year he overheard one staff member gush, “He shook my hand, I’m never going to wash it,” after meeting one of the guys.

(Artman reminded them that they work in a hospital where hand-washing is required.)

Big Slick also has helped spread word of the hospital’s work, he said.

“So the impact is profound,” he said. “It touches these kids’ lives in ways that they don’t understand and will never know.”

He turned to the guys and said: “I want to thank you for what you do.”

Rudd spoke first.

“Every year it gets more profound and emotional for us,” he said. “To hear you talk about those statistics, I think that we kind of walk away from this weekend even more impacted than anybody else.”

Riggle noted that all the guys are dads now. Sudeikis and fiancee Olivia Wilde had Otis Alexander in April. Wilde regularly attends Big Slick weekends, but she and the baby stayed home in New York this time, Sudeikis reported.

The former “Saturday Night Live” cast member tried not to sound “trite” in describing how parenthood has changed him, comparing it with “how you don’t realize how many scooters exist in New York until you buy one. Same thing with babies.

“I can’t help but empathize with every single person who has a child or has had a child ... it opens you up a little bit. It lets as much love in as it does let it out.”

So a lot has changed for the guys since the last Big Slick. Rudd landed the lead role in the coming “Ant-Man” movie. Riggle’s been busy making sequels — first “22 Jump Street” and now the coming “Dumb and Dumber” sequel.

They added Koechner and Eric Stonestreet, past Big Slick participants, as co-hosts this year. (Stonestreet was in Los Angeles and missed the Friday media gathering.)

And they replaced the celebrity poker tournament with bowling, which now makes the event seem misnamed given that Big Slick is a poker term.

“We’re still going to make it work,” Riggle said.

“Well,” said Sudeikis, “the bowling lanes are ...

“Very slick,” Riggle finished. “We’re going to change it to Very Slick.”

Though Riggle demurred when asked about how much money organizers plan to raise this year, he said this year’s event should be its biggest.

Certainly the list of celebrity participants is longer than ever. The guest list includes Aisha Tyler (“The Talk” co-host and a voice actor on FX’s “Archer”), Angela Kinsey (“The Office,” “New Girl”), Curt Menefee (“Fox NFL Sunday”), Dallas Roberts (Milton from “The Walking Dead”), Dianna Agron (“Glee”), Will Forte (“Nebraska”), Ian Gomez and Josh Hopkins (“Cougar Town”) and CNN journalist Jake Tapper.

Said Rudd: “One of the things we’ve always had to deal with, living in New York or Los Angeles, we meet people and our whole lives, they say ‘Where are you from?’ and you say ‘Kansas’ … and after the inevitable ‘Wizard of Oz’ joke …”

“Always,” Riggle concurred, thumping his head with his microphone.

It’s nice when their celebrity pals leave with a good impression of the people here, said Rudd, who like Riggle and Sudeikis grew up in Johnson County.

“Kansas City never lets us down,” Riggle said. “Inevitably they go back to New York or L.A. and they talk about it.… I get calls, ‘When can I come back?’ and that speaks volumes about the people. Kansas City does a great job of hosting.”

Added Sudeikis: “It’s an easy sell.”

The highlight of the trip for most of the out-of-towners, Rudd said, is visiting the hospital and meeting some of the patients.

“It’s why they come back,” he said.

After the news conference, the hospital ushered in a handful of patients to meet with the guys for the cameras, but then kicked the media out so the celebs and the children could meet privately. Weird Al Yankovic and a few others slipped into the room as the media took their leave.

Koechner told his children that he was going to Kansas City to raise money and help find cures for kids who get sick.

They know where his heart is.

He told of how he took his oldest daughter to see “The Fault in Our Stars,” the movie about a teenage cancer patient. He cried most of the movie.

“Do you know why I cried?” he asked his daughter.

She told him, “Because you were thinking of us.”

Later Friday, fans congregated outside Gates A and E at Kauffman Stadium more than an hour before they opened, hoping to score a coveted seat for the Big Slick Celebrity Classic, a campy softball affair featuring Rudd, Riggle, Sudeikis, Stonestreet and Koechner along with a few dozen famous friends.

This year, that list included Sudeikis’ uncle, George Wendt, who bellied up to a table behind home plate much like his famed character Norm did during 11 seasons on “Cheers.”

The fortunate fans who made it past the “velvet ropes” for the game saw heartthrob James Marsden, who plays Cyclops in the X-Men movies, crack a towering home run and laughed as actor/director Michael Ian Black charged the mound after leaning into a pitch from Sudeikis.

Chiefs quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniel also participated in the fun along with punter Dustin Colquitt. Big Slick regular Kevin Pollak, Johnny Knoxville and “Glee” star Dianna Agron also were among the celebrities on hand for the event.

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, email lgutierrez@kcstar.com or call 816-234-4987.

Big Slick Saturday

10:30 a.m.: Big Slick Celebrity Bowl tournament at Pinstripes, 13500 Nall Ave. in Overland Park. (Sponsorships are $1,500-$5,000.)

8:15 p.m.: Big Slick Celebrity Party and Auction at the Midland theater downtown. For tickets and sponsorships, go to bigslickkc.org. Auction tickets are $50-$75; party costs a minimum of $1,000.

Among the auction items:

Tickets to “Saturday Night Live”

KU basketball game with Rob Riggle

K-State football game with Eric Stonestreet

Chiefs game with David Koechner

Set visits to “Modern Family” and “Brooklyn Nine Nine”

Attend premieres and after-parties of “Ant-Man,” “Dumb and Dumber To,” “Horrible Bosses 2”

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