Mayor couldn't get last laugh But he's funny enough: Schmoke ranks third in charity comedy match, wins $1,000 for homeless.


It's good that he still has a day job.

The meteoric career of Kurt L. Schmoke, cable TV comic, ended before it began Saturday night with a third-place finish that was, alas, judged not worthy of national television.

According to the applause of a live audience of 5,000 gathered for HBO's Comic Relief telethon, Baltimore's mayor was out-joked by Newark Mayor Sharpe James and Seattle Mayor Norman Rice, who placed first with a rendition of a man talking underwater.

TC And then, because it was after midnight, the HBO editors chose to air only the funniest mayor in the Funniest Mayor competition, and Mr. Schmoke could be glimpsed only in a 40-second montage of videos from all the would-be-funny mayors.

"He was humbled by the loss," said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman. Mr. Schmoke could not be reached yesterday.

The disappointment may have been compounded by the fact that Mr. Schmoke probably thought he was No. 2, as hosts Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg announced. But they mixed up the mayors, HBO spokesman Henry Gomez said.

"That's live television, I guess," Mr. Gomez said. "Baltimore was definitely No. 3, although it was very close."

The idea that the mayor might be funny on a national scale did not occur even to Mr. Schmoke's most enthusiastic boosters during the re-election campaign, so even the third-place finish might come as a pleasant surprise to many.

Of course, the field was limited. Comic Relief invited only 23 mayors to compete -- the chief executives of cities where Health Care for the Homeless, the beneficiary of the telethon, has projects. Only nine mayors dared risk humiliation by submitting videotapes, from which HBO chose three finalists.

So, to be precise, Mr. Schmoke is the third-funniest mayor of Baltimore, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, San Antonio, San Diego and Seattle. His performance won a $1,000 donation from HBO to Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore, where the group operates a clinic.

Mr. Schmoke offered an old joke about a hardnosed banker named Patty Mack who has to be urged to give a loan to a frog who offers a family heirloom as collateral. The punch line: "It's a knick knack, Patty Mack. Give the frog a loan."

Mr. James told one that made the rounds during Pope John Paul's visit, about a police officer who finds the pope driving his own limousine and wonders who can be so important as to have the holy father as a chauffeur.

Mr. Rice won with a few self-mocking lines about Seattle's fervent environmentalism and wet climate, culminating in his underwater imitation, about which Mr. Coleman was mildly dismissive.

"The mayor of Seattle made a kind of gurgling noise," he said. Mr. Schmoke, the spokesman said, was not prepared to make such a fool of himself. "He was willing to go right up to the line for charity. But he wouldn't cross it," Mr. Coleman said.

When Mr. Schmoke agreed in late October to compete, Mr. Coleman acknowledged that his staff panicked. The mayor's usual jokes were judged inadequate for serious competition. Word went out across City Hall to come up with something funnier.

"It was a mad scramble at the end," Mr. Coleman said.

Advocates for the homeless protested last week against Mr. Schmoke's -- and a Sun editorial's -- recent comments urging people not to give money to panhandlers. Mr. Coleman said there was no contradiction between that stance and the HBO competition.

"In the mayor's view there's a difference between the plight of the homeless and the plight of the panhandlers," Mr. Coleman said. "He says, don't give to panhandlers, give to charities that help the homeless."

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