The U.K.'s Red Nose Day, the biennial comedy-driven fundraiser that started nearly three decades ago, began seeping into the U.S. pop cultural consciousness a few years back, via some Internet friendly clips.
The 2011 edition brought a surprise Paul McCartney-Ringo Starr reunion that delivered laughs, if not music. Two years later, Ricky Gervais resurrected his David Brent character from the original version of "The Office," presenting the grating boss as a would-be music star. In March, Rowan Atkinson revived Mr. Bean for Red Nose Day with a hilarious skit involving a highly inappropriate selfie.
Now, like the Beatles, "The Office" and "Mr. Bean," Red Nose Day is about to become a welcome British import. The first American edition debuts Thursday on NBC, offering an invitation to mass silliness – along with an opportunity for doing good and making fun.
The three-hour telethon, like its British counterpart, aims to raise millions for charities that help young people. The bigger participation challenge, though, may be getting Americans to don clown-like red noses for the day.
The U.S. advent of Red Nose Day marks the latest major instance of comedy being used for a cause. Comedy Central's "Night of Too Many Stars" shows have raised more than $18 million since 2006 to help young people with autism. The Jon Stewart-led specials revived the spirit of the old Comic Relief telethons spearheaded by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams that generated donations to help the homeless. That effort was inspired by Comic Relief UK, the outfit behind Red Nose Day.
So in a sense Red Nose Day is about to come, well, full circle. The guest lineup for Thursday's event includes Jimmy Fallon, Neil Patrick Harris and Will Ferrell, whose Funny or Die online comedy outlet is producing Red Nose Day videos that could gain an audience far beyond the U.S.
Check out one promo that's already getting some notice – Anna Kendrick's take on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" above – as Red Nose Day organizers bet that on Thursday the money will flow along with the laughs.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.