What happened to Comic Relief?

Almost forgot to weigh in on last weekend’s other talked-about comedy show, the ballyhooed return of Comic Relief. Broadcast live from Las Vegas and New Orleans on HBO (with a slight delay on TBS), the show looked and sounded all of its 20 years. Robin Williams had nothing new to offer. Whoopi Goldberg had even less. Billy Crystal gamely tried to keep a smile on his face. And the rest of the comics…snooze.

Emeril "Fall River, Mass." Lagasse was introduced as "Mr. New Orleans." That’s funny not just because it’s literally wrong, but also because Emeril skipped out on the Big Easy in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina. But back to the night of no laughs. Sure, helping New Orleans is serious business, but the name of the show was Comic Relief, and none of the early stand-ups (Ray Romano, Rosie O’Donnell, Bill Maher) got the crowd going. When the actors from Desperate Housewives seem funny, the show needs saving. George Lopez fared OK with timely jokes about immigration. He was followed by Louie Anderson and Susie Essman, a lame bit with the Entourage boys, and eventually, 90 minutes in, D.L. Hughley arrived onstage prepared and raring to go into his stand-up routine. Dane Cook delivered appropriate laughs. Sarah Silverman did her thing, but by this point, it was all I could do to continue watching. If you’re going to bill a show as special, you better darn well put on a special show. Very little of the comedy seemed to fit that description. At least on awards shows, they try to dress it up.

What happened here? Or are my memories of the Comic Relief shows from the 1980s and 1990s tainted by nostalgia?

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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