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Derry Girls, Normal People and 'a few surprises': What to expect from RTÉ's Comic Relief

The show is on tonight from 8pm until 11.30pm.

Dawn O'Porter and Chris O'Dowd join the cast of RTÉ's Comic Relief.
Dawn O'Porter and Chris O'Dowd join the cast of RTÉ's Comic Relief.
Image: RTÉ One

RTÉ IS MAKING return to telethons this evening with the first ever live Comic Relief broadcast in this country.

The show will run for about three-and-a-half hours, with a break for the news, and will feature some of Ireland’s top comedians and actors raising funds for the Community Foundation For Ireland.

The idea is to raise money for charities across the country that have had to stop fundraising due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s estimated that Irish charities could lose out on fundraising worth about €400-500 million this year.

The Comic Relief charity is well-known to most people from its origins in the UK and the BBC’s annual Red Nose Day.

Comedian Deirdre O’Kane and TV producer Darren Smith have led the Irish version of Comic Relief in recent years with live shows each St. Patrick’s Day, but this is the first time there’s a TV broadcast similar to the BBC event. 

The pair approached RTÉ in April with the intention of creating the live programme and the result is a show that will see entertainers contribute from wherever there are in the world. 

Among those taking part in sketches are: Saoirse Ronan, Dara O’Briain, Andrew Scott, Hozier, Chris O’Dowd, Jason Byrne, Aisling Bea, David Mitchell and Normal People’s Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones. 

Unlike the BBC’s Big Night telethon in April when most contributions came from comedians sending in footage themselves, today’s looser restrictions means RTÉ was able to do some filming.

“With the Derry Girls, whose cast are scattered across different countries, that was something where we use technology to bring them together,” explains executive producer Michael Hughes.

But with Normal People, Paths To Freedom, Bridget and Eamon and quite a few others, you won’t realise they were filmed under lockdown.

Hughes explains that the current circumstances actually meant they could get people together where they mightn’t otherwise have been able to. 

Because people are in lockdown they aren’t doing anything else. If you’d tried to get Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones together it would usually be difficult, I think he was due to be filming a movie in Canada. So it would have been very hard to get them, but they both happen to be locked down in London. So we remote produced the shoot in London from here. 

Hughes adds that, although RTÉ have announced who is taking part in tonight’s show, they haven’t said what they’ll be doing or who’ll they’ll be in a sketch with, so people should keep an eye out for some “unexpected combinations” and “surprise cameos”.

Community Foundation For Ireland

Comic Relief isn’t itself a charity in Ireland but has worked with Community Foundation For Ireland (CFI) to distribute funds raised by the live shows in the last few years. 

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CFI is a philanthropic charity that was set up 20 years ago and distributes grants to other charities and community groups around the country. 

RTÉ has said that using CFI as a charitable partner for the show will mean that “a broad selection of vital Irish organisations will be the beneficiaries of this fundraising effort”. 

CFI’s CEO Tina Roche told TheJournal.ie that they have worked with up to 5,000 charities across the country. 

“Since we started, I’d say we’ve given out over €55 million in grants and we’ve distributed to and worked with between 4,000-5,000 charities and non-profits,” she said. 

So we’ll earmark all the funds that are going to come in tomorrow night hopefully. And what we’re hoping to do then is, depending on the amount of money that’s raised, we will help organisations that have been really affected by Covid. So we’re hoping that we raise a lot of money and then we’ll distribute it right across the country to all those organisations that are crying out for it.

“The estimate is that up €500 million has been lost in fundraising coming in 2020, it’s huge. And 55% of charities now have said their finances are uncertain or in difficulty. So we really have to help those to just hang on till they can restart and bring back into fundraising again and all those big occasions that people use. All those pup nights, pub quizzes, bake sales, everything, all those are gone. So this is kind of to try and see if we can help those organisations.” 

RTÉ does Comic Relief’ airs at 8pm on RTÉ One tonight and will be hosted by Deirdre O’Kane, Nicky Byrne, Jennifer Zamperelli, Baz Ashmawy and Eoghan McDermott. 

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Rónán Duffy

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