As the parent of a 12-year-old son with severe autism, Robert Smigel knows the disorder is no laughing matter. Yet the comedy writer, best known as the alter ego of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, has assembled some of his funniest pals to raise money for autism education and family services.
Spearheaded by Smigel and his wife Michelle, Comedy Central’s “Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education” special is in its third incarnation and has raised nearly $7 million to help ease the shortage of schools and education programs for autistic children and adults. Coin from the event is disbursed to orgs around the country.
The 2010 edition, which airs Oct. 21 and again features Jon Stewart as emcee, is Smigel’s most ambitious yet. The two-hour telecast will feature a live component with notables including George Clooney, Larry David, Jimmy Kimmel, Jim Parsons, Sofia Vergara and Rainn Wilson working the phones to take donations from viewers.
The taped portion, which was shot Oct. 2 at Gotham’s Beacon Theater, features appearances by Lewis Black, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Tracy Morgan, John Oliver, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, a musical number from Jack Black, and of course, a visit with Triumph. The special also reunites Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert, who voiced one of Smigel’s more memorable “Saturday Night Live” sketches, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo.”
“I am amazed and overwhelmed by the show of support,” says Smigel, who adds that he’s open to any last-minute celeb additions to man phones on the Oct. 21 telecast. “For Tina (Fey) and Steve (Carell) to find time with their insane schedules was really touching,” he says.
Smigel became concerned about his son Daniel’s development when the boy was about a year old. By the time Daniel was 18 months old, Smigel strongly suspected autism. Today, the preteen needs significant support in order to communicate.
“We wanted to target the educational aspect of autism because no other autism charity was doing it, and we know how difficult it is to get the one-on-one quality care these kids need,” says Smigel, who hopes to raise $3 million from this year’s spesh. “We know what kind of waitlists these schools have.”