By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 25, 2002 10:00 AM
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Humor mixed with a serious message at a Wednesday luncheon in New York hosted by the Marshalls Women in Comedy Festival. Oddly enough, even with Whoopi Goldberg receiving a lifetime achievement award, it was the serious talk that guests took home with them.

With America possibly in the brink of war with Iraq, said Goldberg, “I’m finding it hard to be funny.”

As it was, the former Hollywood Square and most recent Oscar host, 46, was honored for her entertainment-industry and philanthropic accomplishments, and tickets sales from the Comedy Festival itself will benefit the fight against domestic violence — which was the message of the luncheon.

“Nearly one in three American women have been physically or sexually abused in their lifetime. The goal is to keep children and women safe,” Esta Soler, executive director of the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, told guests, who included TV personalities Caroline Rhea, Joy Behar, Star Jones and comedienne Judy Gold.

Not that there weren’t some laughs to be had over the meal. “I’m a professional Whoopi Goldberg presenter,” Rhea said at the podium, citing her recent introduction of Goldberg at the Kennedy Center.

“You mean she slept with all the Kennedys?” Behar asked from ringside.

The exchange prompted Goldberg to shout, “Give me the award. I want to go home.”

Besides making Whoopi’s trophy case a bit more crowded, the event also spotlighted the upcoming Comedy Festival, which will feature Rhea, Kathleen Madigan, Sue Murphy and Debi Gutierrez and travel to Boston, Chicago and Atlanta. On Thanksgiving eve, Nov. 28, PAX TV will present a special featuring highlights from the tour.