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‘Red Nose Day’: Live Fundraiser Blends Star Pitches, Comedy Performances

“Do something funny for money” was the slogan of NBC’s inaugural “Red Nose Day” telecast, a live three-hour show that helped raise more than $21 million to aid children living in poverty in the U.S. and abroad.

The telecast that originated Thursday from New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom went off with only a few minor hitches that were probably not visible to the viewing audience at home.

Seth Meyers, David Duchovny and Jane Krakowski each hosted an hour of the program that blended pitches from stars such as Julianne Moore, Olivia Wilde and Gwenyth Paltrow with taped comedy segments produced by Funny or Die and in-studio bits from “Saturday Night Live’s” Colin Jost, Michael Che and Jay Pharaoh, as well as Billy Eichner and Josh Groban.

In between the entertainment, short films featuring celebrity appeals on behalf of specific causes struck a serious note. Jack Black traveled to Uganda to offer a first-hand account of extreme poverty that children there face. Michelle Rodriguez tackled the problem of child labor in primitive construction in the poorest remote regions of Peru.

Musical guests included U2 and the combo of Keith Urban and John Mellencamp performing the latter’s “Pink Houses.”

The concept of Red Nose Day is based on a fundraiser that has become an institution in the U.K. over the past 30 years. It’s the brainchild of director Richard Curtis, who sought a vehicle for using comedy to shine a light on the harsh reality of extreme poverty. Curtis was on hand for Thursday’s event, which was spearheaded for NBC by Paul Telegdy, president of alternative and latenight programming and a British native who worked on Red Nose Day events during his previous tenure with the BBC.

To promote the effort, NBC struck a deal with Walgreens to sell plastic red clown noses, with the proceeds going to various charities identified by Red Nose USA.

The Gates Foundation also made a $4 million matching donation. Half of the money raised through NBC’s effort will be distributed to orgs working in the U.S., including the United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Children’s Health Fund, Feeding America, the Vaccine Alliance and National Council of La Raza. The other half will support a number of charities aiding kids in the Third World.

Will Ferrell, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Nick Offerman, Jimmy Fallon, Jennifer Aniston, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington and members of Coldplay were among the celebs who took part in the short films produced for the special. Actors Rose Byrne and Stephen Merchant delivered a live sketch.

NBCUniversal poured money and resources into the launch of what it hopes will become an annual event for the network and the nation. “Today” anchor Matt Lauer took a five-day, 226-mile bike ride through New England to raise awareness of the special. The trek was chronicled on “Today” and raised $323,000 in pledges prior to the live telecast.

On Thursday night, “Watch What Happens Live” host Andy Cohen and “Today” anchor Hoda Kotb were parked in Times Square asking passers by to donate money by buying them drinks. Nick Cannon fronted a 24-hour “Dance-a-Thon” that was streamed live on NBC.com and ended just as the special began at 8 p.m. ET.

(Pictured: Rose Byrne and Stephen Merchant)

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