Editorial: Not a day to be sniffed at

Last updated 05:00 27/08/2012

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OPINION: Ridiculous people, take a bow. That's another Red Nose Day duly disported.

Once again the nation's comedians have been able to crack wise in the knowledge that the nation's critical faculties are being, if not suspended, then at least calibrated against the unassailable virtue of the cause - Cure Kids.

You could argue that comedy is better when it sets out to discomfort rather than to cajole. That might be taking too narrow a view - there is such a thing as benign, gentle humour and in any case the methodology does get rather trumped by the imperatives of the fundraising agenda.

Anyway, the first New Zealand Red Nose Day was held back in 1989 and the practitioners know what they're doing. They have proven adept at keeping the process an engaging one.

As for those not-always-so-funny amateurs who join in, well good on them. As the gnome-like Dai Henwood said while he was recording with the All Blacks: the best thing was that everyone had been so willing to take the mickey out of themselves. No one had been precious.

So you would expect. If anything, the high-profile figures who take part in the Red Nose skits can be commended for their good-heartedness, rather than more supposed bravery.

After all, although organisers wouldn't be so mean as to make an issue of it, imagine the public reaction nightmare were it to leak out that so-and-so wasn't prepared to accept the indignity of taking part, and, by implication, to hell with those kids.

How brave would that be? Unappealingly so, but brave nonetheless. You'd be setting yourself up to look like a jerk, and simultaneously playing into the hands of people expert in exposing and mocking jerks.

It could be argued that Red Nose Day harks back to a tradition of edgy virtue. We are typically encouraged to trace it back to Christmas Day 1985, when Comic Relief was launched live on the BBC from a refugee camp in Sudan. After a few live events the first Red Nose Day was broadcast three years later.

Recently, the Brits have enjoyed having Miranda Hart and Ruby Wax cook for David Cameron in No 10 in a spoof of MasterChef; Lenny Henry heckling a stuttering King George VI (played by Colin Firth) to hurry up and start the show and a whole bunch of Doctor Who in-jokes.

But memory stirs, for all that, farther back to the sense of real excitement generated earlier by Amnesty International comedy fundraisers, The Secret Policeman's Ball (1979) and the first of its many sequels. It's regarded, in hindsight, as having been very influential in galvanising the participation of entertainers in political and social causes thereafter.

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And back then, didn't it seem like provocative stuff? Older timers like Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and John Cleese mixing it with fresher faces like Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly and Victoria Wood, and some of them on what seemed at the time to be their very best bad behaviour.

Red Nose Day has a credible face nowadays. Even, that most dreaded of comedy antihistamines, respectability. The job ahead is to keep things sufficiently silly to stop that becoming a problem.

- The Southland Times

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