Comic Relief telethon, back after 8-year hiatus, to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina victims

Published 5:07 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Comic Relief, the celebrity-studded fundraising telethon for the homeless, is back, after an 8-year hiatus.

Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg will take the stage Saturday to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina victims, capping a weeklong Comedy Festival that began Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Comic Relief founder and President Bob Zmuda said the decision to revive the telethon came after he narrowly escaped the wrath of the 2004 Asian tsunami while vacationing in Thailand.

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“I got severe survivor’s guilt,” he said. He returned to Thailand to volunteer in a morgue with thousands of bodies. “It was the worst experience in my life and yet it became the best.”

Then Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast last year, leaving thousands homeless, and giving Comic Relief a new cause.

“We decided we had this great brand name and comedians were still willing to do it,” Zmuda said.

The show marks the ninth major telecast of Comic Relief, a 20-year-old institution that held its last major event in 1998. Participating this year are Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, George Lopez and Sarah Silverman. Wayne Brady will host the show’s satellite location in New Orleans. It will be broadcast live from Caesars Palace on HBO and, with an 8-second delay for content, on TBS.

Much of the proceeds will go toward building traditional “shotgun” houses in New Orleans’ Holy Cross area in the devastated lower Ninth Ward. The narrow, rectangular houses can be built for about $145,000 each and sold to low-income families for about $110,000 by a local nonprofit group, Zmuda said.

“People have kind of forgotten. They say New Orleans is OK now. And it’s not. It’s ground zero,” Zmuda said.

While the benefit has a serious cause, the rest of the Comedy Festival week is all about yucks.

On Wednesday, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog was to bring it with “Poopapalooza II” and a Jim Henson-inspired puppet group was to play out an adult content show, “Puppet Up.” Dane Cook was to perform his “Tourgasm Tour” on Friday.

Dave Chappelle, who famously walked away from a $50 million deal to continue his hit “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central in 2005, canceled a scheduled Thursday performance. No reason was immediately given.

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