What’s the best way for a television network to raise money for autism, a serious condition that affects millions of Americans and their families?
If you’re Comedy Central, you ask Chris Rock to curse out a donor’s ex-boyfriend on the air.
“Night of Too Many Stars,” a two-and-a-half hour special on Comedy Central on Oct. 21, combines the typical telethon format with the kind of fearless comedy the network has specialized in for years.
Since 2006, when it was first televised, the event has become a kind of alternative comedy version of the Jerry Lewis telethon. Instead of earnest pleas, heartbreaking set pieces and inspirational songs, viewers will be treated to segments showing Steve Carell simulating orgasm with two women onstage, Sarah Silverman making out with the film critic Leonard Maltin, and a generous helping of bleeped-out language.
The television show, a combination of highlights from a stage show at the Beacon Theater in New York two weeks ago and a live phone-in fund-raiser from Los Angeles on Thursday night, is hosted by Jon Stewart, who is accustomed to being bleeped by network censors. The show also features performances by a long roster of comedy stars, including Robin Williams, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, David Letterman, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Lewis Black, Adam Sandler, Tracy Morgan and Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.
Triumph, of course, emerges from the Duane Reade bag where he spends most of his days whenever his voice, the comedy writer and performer Robert Smigel, chooses to unleash him. Mr. Smigel is the driving force behind the autism event, now biennial, which has grown in size and profile since 2003, when he first put it together as a charity dinner.
Mr. Smigel, who has written for “Saturday Night Live” and Conan O’Brien, has the most personal of reasons for his involvement: he and wife, Michelle, have an autistic son.
Mr. Smigel said the involvement of Mr. Stewart, the “Daily Show” host, from the first year has been critical.
“Jon engineered Comedy Central getting into this,” Mr. Smigel said. This year Mr. Stewart remained fully engaged even amid one of the busiest times of his career, with his rally in Washington looming. “It couldn’t have been less convenient for him,” Mr. Smigel said.
But his presence now, when he has a particularly high profile, is convenient for the network. “Night of Too Many Stars” has not been a big ratings hit in prior years, and the producers hope Mr. Stewart’s pull and the expanded roster of big-name comedians will mean more viewers and more donations.
Mr. Stewart will host the live portion in Los Angeles, just as he did the show at the Beacon. It made for better comedy, Mr. Smigel said, not to have phone-in donations going on at the same time as the performances.
Those include comics like Jim Gaffigan doing pieces from their acts as well as special material tailored for that night — for example, Mr. Rock obliging an audience member who paid $20,000 to have her ex-boyfriend verbally assaulted. Mr. Carell and Mr. Colbert team up to sing an original song called “Everybody’s Talking About Sully” (Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger of Hudson River water landing fame) that will be sold on iTunes, and Tina Fey sells her own swimsuit calendar.
The calendar and a hamburger-scented candle from White Castle will be premium items for viewers who call — or text — in with donations of $100 or more. This year the show will have some big-name phone answerers — George Clooney, Larry David and Betty White, among others — and will add some fresh comedy material as well. At the Beacon someone pledged $9,000 for the privilege of flying to Los Angeles, visiting Conan O’Brien’s new show and getting to wear the suit of the Masturbating Bear.
Mr. Smigel may even pull out Triumph to answer a few phones. But why is his famous creation relegated to a Duane Reade bag anyway? “The way he hurts people on a daily basis,” Mr. Smigel said, “he deserves no better.”
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The NY Times:
Posted by BA Haller at 10:10 AM