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The telethon, known as Red Nose Day, airs every two years (in March of every odd-numbered year, usually on the third Friday) and 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.
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 from two completely different shows). 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 current 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, or more usually two or three different designs, every time) which is inevitably sold using some variant of the phrase "Pick Your Nose Here".
In even-numbered years, an event called Sport Relief runs instead. The actual telethon is similar to Comic Relief, but the events surrounding it are more sport-oriented and include celebrities (notably David Walliams and Helen Skelton) taking on endurance challenges, and fun runs all over the country under the "Sport Relief Mile" banner.
There's an American version of Comic Relief, which is like the British version, except on HBO instead of free TV, focused on stand-up comedy rather than sketches, running irregularly instead of every two years (most recently for a Hurricane Katrina benefit in 2006), and not involving any red clown noses. It's hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Robin Williams.
Not to be confused with Plucky Comic Relief.
Notable Relief stuff
- 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.
- "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.
- Top Gear of the Pops, a 2007 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.