Pop Culture

Jon Stewart wants autism benefit to be funny

Benefits on TV are rife with their own cliches: the busy phone banks in the background, the giant-sized checks, the drumrolls, the tote board. So when comedians gather to raise money for autism education this weekend, you can expect the event itself to be spoofed.

“Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Benefit for Autism Education” promises to be a benefit — and a parody of a benefit.

“If we can convince people we’re just kidding, maybe they think they’re giving us fake money,” said Jon Stewart, who’s reprising his role as host.

The live, two-hour Comedy Central special (8 p.m. EST Sunday) will raise money for schools and education programs for autistic children and adults, with some of the money going to the advocacy group Autism Speaks. The last “Night of Too Many Stars” in October 2006 raised more than $2.6 million.

Both have been spearheaded by Robert Smigel, best known for his character Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Smigel, whose son Daniel is autistic, is well-known and respected among comedians, and it’s his connections that drew glut of talent.

Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler and many others will be performing standup, sketches and presenting short films at New York’s Beacon Theater.

Striking the right balance of laughs and seriousness isn’t easy — particularly for a comedian as subversive as Smigel. (The “TV Funhouse” cartoons on “Saturday Night Live” are also his doing — as are the moving lips of famous people’s photos on O’Brien’s “Late Night.”)

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“We want to be funny enough that they laugh, but not so funny that they don’t think it’s real,” said Smigel. “We try to walk that line carefully. Yes, we really want people to call in and give real money and not ironically funny money.”

Autism education clearly is a real issue for Smigel, who has had difficulty finding good schools for his son.

“It’s bleak for a lot of parents,” Smigel said. “As hard as it was to have our son diagnosed, it’s even harder to imagine the frustration of parents who just can’t get what they need for their child.”

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