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Useful Notes / Comic Relief

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The BBC's other charity telethon. As the name implies, its main focus is on comedy, with many major British comedians often taking part (and some, such as Lenny Henry, are almost expected to appear every year), down to the main motif, a red clown nose that takes a different form with every event.

The telethon, known as Red Nose Day, aired every two years between 1989 and 2021 (ever since the second telethon in 1989, March of every odd-numbered year, usually on the third Friday; the first one was in 1988 and aired on the first Friday in February) and every year since 2022, is generally similar to Children in Need in format, with comedy skits and spoofs, appearances by celebrities (often poking fun at themselves), and performances by special musical acts (that often get interfered with by the comedians). All the while, there are short reports showing people in desperate need that Comic Relief has helped. Like with Children in Need, the BBC News separates the family friendly and the racier parts of the night, although there is usually something on BBC Two for those who don't want to see the news.

The skits in the Comic Relief telethons often either special versions of BBC comedy shows, or specially made for the telethon. These usually include spoofs, pieces involving a comedian with a celebrity, or a Crossover between two different programmes (which have a good chance of being wildly mismatched). The most notable of these is the Doctor Who spoof The Curse of Fatal Death, the centrepiece of Red Nose Day '99, which was written by Steven Moffat, the writer of Coupling, some of the most critical and fan acclaimed episodes of the new Who, and later showrunner.

Comic Relief often also have a special charity record to go along with the event. This is usually a cover performed by a well known pop act alongside a popular comedy act, but is sometimes just a cover by a well known pop act with some comedians doing wacky things in the video. As expected, the song is performed during the telethon, often with interference. Another regular fundraiser is a bright red plastic nose — a different design each time; in recent years two or three different designs have turned up per appeal — inevitably sold using some variant of the phrase "Pick Your Nose Here".

In even-numbered years between 2002 and 2020, an event called Sport Relief ran instead. The actual telethon was similar to Comic Relief, but the events surrounding it were more sport-oriented and included celebrities (notably David Walliams and Helen Skelton) taking on endurance challenges, and fun runs all over the country under the "Sport Relief Mile" banner.

For several years there was an American version of Comic Relief, which was like the British version, except that it aired on HBO instead of free TV, focused on stand-up comedy rather than sketches, ran irregularly instead of every two years (the last HBO Comic Relief special was for a Hurricane Katrina benefit in 2006), and didn't involve any red clown noses. It was hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams. On May 21, 2015, NBC and the charity America Gives Back revived Comic Relief in America in the form of a Red Nose Day telethon. The first of its kind in America, and the first Comic Relief-related special across the pond since the aforementioned Hurricane Katrina benefit almost 9 years previously, this telethon is significantly closer to the British version except its focus is mainly on helping children and families who are living in poverty. The initial telecast proved to be so popular that NBC decided to make it an annual event. Starting with the second edition, plastic red noses have been Walgreens exclusives.

Not to be confused with Plucky Comic Relief.

Notable Relief stuff:

  • Blackadder (1988), The Cavalier Years sketch, notable for being by Blackadder writer and Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis (who had had thought up the charity with Lenny Henry in 1985).
  • 1989 saw the death of Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney character. While this initially appeared to be a one-off gag, it turned out Enfield was worried about Misaimed Fandom and took the opportunity to retire the character.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (1994), a brief bit done for the American Comic Relief that had pretty much all the main cast except Patrick Stewart. The bit, in which some Comic Relief artifacts are found on a planet's surface, is done in such a way that it really doesn't look out-of-place in the Trek mythos.
  • Several Mr. Bean sketches, with Rowan Atkinson reprising the role:
  • "Spider-Plant Man" (2005), An Affectionate Parody of the superhero genre staring Roman Atkinson and Ellen Stevens.
  • "Prime Cracker" (1997), a crossover between Prime Suspect and Cracker.
  • "BallyKissDibley" (1997), a crossover between Ballykissangel and The Vicar of Dibley.
  • Again in 1997, a Gladiators self-parody featuring two soap stars as the contenders, one of whom is badly out-of-shape, but wins anyway thanks to rampant bribery, rigging and cheating.
  • Doctor Who: The Curse of Fatal Death (1999), a spoof Doctor Who adventure starring Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor and Jonathan Pryce as the Master. Written by Steven Moffat, who would later go on to write for the series upon its actual return in 2005 and run the series beginning in 2010.
    • Amusingly, the BBC released Curse (re-edited into a two-parter with a new opening sequence for one) on VHS just like any other Who story, using the same formatting and all.
  • 2003 featured Jack Dee stuck on top of a column all night, a parody sketch of Harry Potter featuring Dawn French as a female Harry and Jeremy Irons as a self-obsessed Snape, and a celebrity driving school where Paul O'Grady lost his temper after finding out he failed his first test by one point.
  • "Is This the Way to Amarillo?" (2005): A re-release of the 1971 Tony Christie song, with accompanying video featuring, well, a lot of people, including Ronnie Corbett falling off a treadmill. This charity single spent seven weeks at No.1 and a version done by the Royal Dragoon Guards in Iraq crashed a server at the Ministry of Defence because it was being emailed so much.
  • 2007 saw a crossover between Lauren Cooper of The Catherine Tate Show and... then Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which he became increasingly exasperated after listening to two straight minutes of her constant chattering, finally responding with her own catchphrase.
  • The same year featured a sketch where Lauren's class got a new English teacher played by David Tennant. Cue avalanche of Doctor Who jokes (this was after Tate had appeared in "The Runaway Bride", but before she was a year-long companion).
  • Deal or No Deal (2007), a "mini-episode" with Nan of The Catherine Tate Show. The whole thing is played extremely straight.
  • Top Gear of the Pops (2007), a crossover between the car show and the music showcase, featuring the Top Gear presenters introducing various musical acts instead of cars, talking about music-related topics during the news, charging McFly with writing a new song for the special using the words "sofa", "Hyundai", and "administration", and concluding with a performance of "Red Light Spells Danger" by the Top Gear Band.
  • Let's Dance for Comic Relief (2009): Namely, celebs doing dance routines. This one included Lampshade Hanging on result announcements ("Can we have some dramatic music?") and a Stupid Sexy Flanders moment involving Robert Webb, "What a Feeling" and a leotard.
  • 2013 had Jessie J shaving her head, a skit where Simon Cowell gets married to himself, and the Doctor, alongside the cast of Call the Midwife, trying to stop the birth of the most terrifying being the universe has ever seen... Jedward.
  • The 2015 campaign added a twist to the red noses — there were nine designs packaged in blind bags/boxes, so a buyer didn't know which one they received until they opened it. On top of that, 12 noses were golden instead of red. If that sounds familiar, it should — anyone who found a golden nose received a VIP package to the West End musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  • All profits from the sale of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages were donated to Comic Relief.
  • The 2017 telethon hit the screens on March 24th. Among other things of note, Jonathan Pie moved from the fake version of Children in Need featured in his live show, to provide the same kind of parody behind-the-scenes material for a very real version of Comic Relief.
  • A Real Life Crisis Crossover between Comic Relief & Children in Need in response to the coronavirus pandemic occurred in 2020 to bring together the UK and offer hope and entertainment in the crisis as well as acknowledge all the difficulties people are facing.