- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - You’re a bit late to bid on the chance to join John Oliver in robbing a wine store.

You’re also too late to bid on taking a bow onstage with the cast of the Broadway hit “It’s Only a Play” while Louis C.K. presents you with flowers in front of the bemused theater patrons.

Never mind. You can catch such fundraising hijinks and lots more during Comedy Central’s “Night of Too Many Stars” telethon (airing Sunday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT), which gathers Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr, Steve Buscemi, Gilbert Gottfried, Chris Rock and others to raise money for autism educational programs.

Of course, you can also pledge your own contribution online or by phone. And if the special number should slip your mind, Maya Rudolph will jog your memory in a rollicking routine that even translates it into Roman numerals.

Live cut-ins will feature a celebrity phone bank staffed by stars such as Uzo Aduba, Fred Armisen, Andy Cohen, Tony Danza, Larry David, Willie Geist, Susan Sarandon, Martin Short and Larry Wilmore.

Since 2006, these biennial telethons have raised more than $18 million.

Taped at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre last Saturday night, the evening began with host Jon Stewart reminding everyone that the purpose is not to raise money for an autism cure: “It’s about helping people who live with autism right now. The only clinically proven treatment for autism is appropriate, intensive education.

“It’s a great show,” he added. “I know, because Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly told me.”

Seriously, folks, it’s full of laughs.

Steve Carell lays bare the contents of the swag bags he says all the stars got. Their goodies include the keys to a self-driving Google car, a fresh rhinoceros horn, loose diamonds and “a strain of flu vaccine that actually works.”

Jon Bon Jovi performs a rousing rendition of “Wanted Dead or Alive” with vocal assistance from Will Forte, who, between his chime-ins, stays glued to his smartphone, texting.

Jim Gaffigan addresses the region’s raw, miserable weather that seems to always catch sufferers off-guard: “We’re ANNOYED that it’s freezing in February! We want to BLAME somebody: ‘It’s freezing. Obama!’”

Actor Paul Rudd submits to indignities at the hands of audience participants who spin a wheel to decide how each of them should deal with him. Options include slapping him in the face as hard as possible, shot-gunning beers with him, and the fate labeled “Baby Bird,” which calls for chewing up food and feeding it to Rudd, mouth-to-mouth, like a mother bird feeding her chick. Not pretty. But funny.

A highlight is the return of young Jodi DiPiazza, who wowed the crowd at the “Night of Too Many Stars” bash in 2012 when she played the piano and sang in a duet with Katy Perry. This time, Jodi, now 13, performs alongside another of her favorite entertainers, Weird Al Yankovic, in a rendition of his “Lola” sendup, “Yoda” (“I know Darth Vader’s really got you annoyed/ But remember, if you kill him, then you’ll be unemployed”).

Besides being a comfortable fit among the night’s stars, Jodi, diagnosed with autism at age 2, is a shining example of the benefits of proper education and therapy.

“Night of Too Many Stars” arose from the difficulty Robert Smigel and his wife Michelle had in finding the right educational resources for their autistic son, Daniel, who now is 17. To fill the gap, they joined with other parents to establish their own school in New York. But the venture required fundraising, as did similar educational programs nationwide they wanted to support.

Smigel is an actor and writer best known for his wisecracking puppet, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (currently headlining with Jack McBrayer on Adult Swim’s “The Jack and Triumph Show”), and he’s held in esteem by many members of the comic mafia. They have flocked to the telethons he has since stewarded (this year’s “Night of Too Many Stars” is the fifth).

“When we started this event,” Smigel told the audience this time, “we called autism a disease. Then we changed it to a disorder. Now we call it a condition.

“Everybody in this room understands,” he said, surely also meaning everyone who sees the broadcast. “But there’s so much left for the rest of the world to learn about what these kids are capable of.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE - Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore@ap.org and at https://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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