Michael Che Grew Up in New York City’s Projects. Now He’s Trying to Help Them. | Modern Society of USA

Michael Che Grew Up in New York City’s Projects. Now He’s Trying to Help Them.

Michael Che Grew Up in New York City’s Projects. Now He’s Trying to Help Them.

Michael Che, the comedian who co-hosts “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live,” often jokes about poverty in New York City — and the gags are personal.

Since Mr. Che, 35, grew up in a housing project on Allen Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (and spent countless summers hanging out in the neighborhood’s Alfred E. Smith Houses), he is no stranger to the crumbling conditions in the city’s 176,000 public housing apartments.

Now he’s betting that making people laugh can help fix the country’s largest housing system, which houses more than 400,000 New Yorkers and urgently needs about $32 billion to repair a multitude of issues, like leaky roofs, faulty boilers and pest infestations.

On Friday, Mr. Che will headline a comedy event in Manhattan to raise money for a nonprofit associated with the New York City Housing Authority, known as Nycha, which is facing a possible takeover by the federal government. He also started a separate fund-raiser for those who cannot make it to the show, titled “A Night for Nycha.”

“This city is so rich and so vast and so powerful and so important to the fabric of the country that you would imagine that our public housing would be a lot more habitable,” said Mr. Che, who is the youngest of seven children and has family members who live in public housing.

Jeff Ross, Michelle Wolf and other surprise performers will take the stage at Irving Plaza near Union Square Park, not far from Mr. Che’s former stomping grounds.

We spoke with Mr. Che this week about his show and how his time in public housing shaped his comedy.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. The New York City Housing Authority has been in the headlines for being plagued by problems. When did you first realize the magnitude of the issues, and how did the comedy event come together?

A. Embarrassingly, this show wasn’t my idea.

The problems were something that I knew about. Sometimes when you know something is the case, it seems so overwhelming that you don’t even think to help.

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