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Comics Spell Relief for the Homeless with Laughter

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It was like dèjà vu, only better,” said actor Bob Zmedua, organizer of this year’s Comic Relief telethon, broadcast live on HBO. Bucking the Hollywood tradition that sequels are second-rate, not just second, more than 40 professional funny people turned out at L.A.’s Universal Amphitheater to raise money for the homeless. First-timers, including Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Shelley Long, joined such repeaters as Harry Anderson, Michael J. Fox, Steve Allen and, via satellite, Whoopi Goldberg.

Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, dressed in basic bum, opened the show with a yuppie-bashing rendition of “Swing Up, Sweet Dow Jones,” sung to the tune of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” That set the tone for an evening of often topical humor. (“Wouldn’t it be great,” asked Elayne Booster, “if we found you could only get AIDS from giving money to TV preachers?”) The take topped $3 million, compared with last year’s $2.6 million—the money to be distributed to homeless shelters in 23 cities. Louie Anderson, one of 11 kids raised in a Minneapolis housing project, confessed a personal interest in the homeless issue: His brother, Bill, is missing and may be out there somewhere on the streets. Anderson also summed up the evening’s special appeal for his comrades in comedy. “Any comic could be homeless,” he said. “But for a stroke of good luck, we could be talking to someone on a street corner instead of people.”