It only hurts when you laugh, goes the old punch line.
Seriously, though, the idea of this weekend's fifth annual "Comic Relief" is actually to provide the laughter that makes parting with money to help the homeless a little less painful.
Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams tonight present a lengthy array of comedians performing live in the four-hour telethon from the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. And viewers will be urged to phone in pledges.
The HBO cable service is the carrier, beginning at 9 p.m. But as in past years, the usual extra-cost service has given local cable companies permission to open the signal so all cable viewers can watch.
Most major systems in the area are doing so, including Comcast Cablevision in Baltimore and Harford counties and United Artists Cable in Baltimore City. (Viewers should check their cable carriers for channel references.)
One area exception to the live coverage is United Artist Cable in Anne Arundel County. Tonight's telecast will be limited to HBO subscribers, but the service notes that Comedy Central, the all-comedy basic cable network, is repeating "Comic Relief V" in its entirety at 10 p.m. Sunday, so all subscribers can see the show eventually.
Baltimore is among 23 cities that benefit directly from money raised through "Comic Relief," as distributed through the Health Care for the Homeless Project. In its first four years, the show has raised almost $15 million from pledges.
Lots of laughs seem likely in the show, from a lineup of some 50 performers, ranging from young comics on the rise to veterans.
Curiously, for instance, almost the entire cast of the great "Dick VanDyke Show" can be found on "Comic Relief V," including Mr. Van Dyke, creator/performer Carl Reiner (who was Allan Brady on the show), Morey Amsterdam (Buddy), Mary Tyler Moore (Laura) and Rose Marie (Sally).
Comic Jay Leno, taking over the host's desk of NBC's "The Tonight Show" later this month, is scheduled to make an appearance, too.
Some non-comedy acts on the bill include music groups Another Bad Creation, En Vogue, Heavy D and the Boyz and Sounds of Blackness, hot actress Sharon Stone ("Basic Instincts") and even heavyweight fighter George Foreman, present apparently because of his new job as a boxing commentator on HBO.
The "World of Audubon" series this weekend explores an ironic side effect of the apparently worldwide growing awareness of and love for nature, as an outgrowth of two decades of environmental consciousness-raising.
"Our wild places are in danger of being loved to death," contends actor Sam Waterston, the narrator of "The Environmental Tourist," premiering at 10 p.m. tomorrow on the TBS basic cable service.
Around the world, the show documents, the growth of tourists in visiting natural areas is creating terrible problems of crowding. Yet the income from tourist dollars is vital to many nations.
What is slowly developing, says Waterston, is "an attitude, an ethic called ecotourism," designed to accommodate visitors without threatening the attraction being visited.
Specific areas cited in the show include America's Glacier National Park, Kenya's vast Amboseli National Park and the barrier reef and rain forest of Belize in Central America.