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Comics for Charity: Standing Up and Delivering on G-Rated Television

September 16, 1988|MIKE WYMA

On "Stand-Up Comics Take a Stand," airing for the first time tonight at 5 on CBN Family Channel, Kathy Buckley tells jokes about her lack of a love life. The Van Nuys woman made the finals of the combination contest and charity fund-raiser even though she is new to comedy and hearing-impaired.

"I haven't been on a date in two years," she says. "Maybe it's just because I don't hear the phone ring."

The joke survived the editing of the show, but those that followed did not. Buckley remembers that she went on to describe her job as a massage therapist, saying that one day she "had a real hunk on the table, and my hormones all lined up at the waistband of my pants. My hormones told me they were going to leave forever unless I got lucky pretty soon."

It's tough enough for stand-up comedy to be funny when no subject is off limits. When the humor must be G-rated, the task is that much harder. Yet the two-hour "Stand-Up Comics" special is good for plenty of chuckles and some sustained laughs.

Several members of the production team and two of the comics are from the San Fernando Valley. In addition, the Valley office of United Cerebral Palsy is the show's charity partner.

"This is a big experiment for us and for a lot of charities," said David Myers, UCP development director for the Los Angeles area. "Telethons are going the way of the dinosaur. This kind of show may become the way to use television to raise funds."

As with HBO's "Comic Relief" specials to benefit the homeless, viewers of "Stand-Up Comics" will be asked to call an 800 number and pledge a donation. The show differs, however, in that it is the final round of a contest to find "Hollywood's hottest new comic."

A series of competitions over the summer, most in comedy clubs, narrowed the field from 80 comedians to the six who appear on television. The winner receives $3,000, and other finalists receive about $350, producers' officials said.

The show also differs from "Comic Relief" in that there are commercials. The five co-producers and CBN Family Channel, owned by Christian Broadcast Network, make money from advertisers. Viewers' donations are distributed among United Cerebral Palsy's 255 affiliates nationwide.

"We see this becoming the Miss America contest of comedy," said Ron Roy of Studio City, the show's director. "If UCP affiliates all over the country had runoffs, we'd be a national contest."

Roy and others stressed that comedians knew their material could not be off-color.

"We told them it had to be network-acceptable," said co-producer Randy Johnson of North Hollywood. "I told them, 'If you want to be on Carson, you have to have 10 clean minutes.' "

However, with both the charity and CBN Family Channel authorized to kill jokes, the show is even cleaner than Carson's. A CBN spokesman said the channel's standards require even former network shows such as "Remington Steele" to be edited before airing.

What sort of humor emerges from such scrubbing? Some samples:

"Why is it that when people get older they drive slower?" one comic asks. "They haven't got that long to live, they should be jamming."

"You ever hear that high-pitched whistle that comes from a TV, but there's no TV around?" asks another. "It's dogs blowing on a human whistle."

Then there are movie titles from the future, including "Rocky 14: Rocky Balboa Battles Alzheimer's Disease."

The comedians are at their best when doing celebrity impressions and slapstick. A couple make excellent use of musical instruments.

"We were looking for the working professional comedian on the verge of that big break," said co-producer Johnson. "For judges at the runoffs, we used people who can give comics work--casting representatives, agents, executives from TV shows. We figured it was better for the comics than using celebrity judges, and from the very first runoff, comedians got jobs."

The least experienced finalist is Buckley, who at the taping was performing before an audience for only the fourth time. The most experienced is Brian Haley of Manhattan Beach, a veteran of the comedy club circuit who also has a few screen and TV credits.

The concept for "Stand-Up Comics Take a Stand" came from Gene Mitchener of Woodland Hills. Confined to a wheelchair by a sensory nerve disorder, Mitchener nonetheless works as a comedian.

One of the producers is Tom Ritter of North Hollywood, who has cerebral palsy. His brother, actor John Ritter, appears as an emcee on the show, as do Steve Allen, Mike Farrell and several other celebrities.

Last year "Stand-Up Comics" was staged as a non-televised fund-raiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. Bill Fisher of West Los Angeles, another co-producer, said the show switched charities because "our goal was to get it on television. MDA is really strict about what they will do on TV because they think it may take away from the Jerry Lewis telethon."

Christopher Murray, MDA district director for Los Angeles, disagreed, saying that televising "Stand-Up Comics" would not have been a problem. "It's a good program," Murray said, adding that a "personality conflict" between himself and Fisher, a former MDA employee, led to the break.

A UCP official said the charity hopes to make between $20,000 and $50,000 from the three showings.

The program airs at 5 p.m. today, 8 p.m. on Sept. 23 and 4 p.m. on Sept. 25.

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