But seriously, folks Laughing matter: Televised competition to find nation's funniest mayor airs tonight. Guess who's a finalist?


This is not a joke: Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is one of three finalists in a contest to find America's funniest mayor.

Mayor Schmoke has been called many things. The words "Ivy League" and "nice" spring to mind. The words "laugh riot" do not.

Tonight, ready or not, the mayor goes prime time.

A videotape of Mr. Schmoke telling jokes will be broadcast on HBO's Comic Relief program, whose hosts are Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams.

A live audience of up to 5,000 people will vote on Mr. Schmoke and the other finalists, Mayor Sharpe James of Newark, N.J., and Mayor Norman Rice of Seattle.

Mr. Schmoke does one about the frog who fails to get a loan from a bank officer named Patty Mack even though the frog offers a family heirloom as collateral. A higher-level official intervenes, allowing Mr. Schmoke to get off his winning line:

"It's a knick knack, Patty Mack. Give the frog a loan."

But seriously folks, take a look at the competition.

"The Seattle mayor does a great impersonation of someone under water," said Henry Gomez, director of affiliate public relations for HBO. "He gurgled. It was quite impressive."

The Newark mayor told a pope joke in his video:

The pope, in a hurry on his recent American tour, switches places with his driver as they speed through New Jersey. A turnpike policeman pulls him over and calls a commander in confusion.

"I don't know who he is," the officer says, "but he has the pope for a chauffeur."

"It's an oldie but a goody," Mr. Gomez said. "We hadn't heard it in a while. And his delivery was great."

Comic Relief raises money for Health Care for the Homeless, and Mr. Schmoke is telling jokes to benefit the agency's Baltimore office.

If Mr. Schmoke wins, HBO will donate $7,500 in his name to Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore.

Second place wins a $1,500 donation and third place $1,000.

The mayors have already won a $250 donation for being willing to have their constituents and the world laugh at them. Nine mayors competed.

Bucks for yuks

The program begins at 9 p.m. and if all goes as planned, Mr. Schmoke will appear about 12:45 a.m.

"He has changed, hasn't he?" said Julian L. Lapides, who ran unsuccessfully for city comptroller in the primary election, when told Mr. Schmoke was officially funny.

Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, a 3rd District city councilman who went to high school with Mr. Schmoke, remembers him as a cut-up.

"If you ask me, he's a real humorous guy," Mr. Cunningham said.

Mr. Gomez said the mayor came across as warm and funny. "His jokes were just wonderful," he said.

Carrying a big shtick

Clint Coleman, who as Mr. Schmoke's spokesman gets paid for trying to make his boss look good, watched when the HBO crew filmed Mr. Schmoke in October.

"I didn't think we'd have to worry about him winning," he said. Prodded to describe Mr. Schmoke's humor, he referred to "light-hearted moments." And he laughed heartily.

Mr. Schmoke won't be in Los Angeles tonight for the vote because of commitments at home. He's sending Neal Janey, the city solicitor.

"He's very serious," Mr. Coleman said. "I'm not sure he has a funny side. He growls, but I'm not sure he can laugh."

Bob Somerby, a local stand-up comedian, offered Mr. Schmoke some advice. "If he loses," he said, "blame it on his staff."

Here's how to blow Mayor James out of the water, he said: "You know the pope's trip was divinely guided," he said. "He went to Newark, and no one stole the Popemobile."

Take that, Newark.

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