Kelly Clarkson

Red Nose Day Glows

The growing tradition of the childhood poverty fundraiser, set for its fourth U.S. edition Thursday, is nothing to sneeze at.

The U.S. version of Red Nose Day debuted in 2015, about eight months after the last Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon and five years after Jerry Lewis’ final bow as host.

Red Nose Day, now an hour-long special capping a night of themed programming on NBC, hardly qualifies as a telethon. But the British import, due for its fourth annual U.S. installment on Thursday, is slowly becoming a tradition on these shores.

The U.S. edition of the day of entertainment and red clown noses has pulled in a total of $100 million to fight childhood poverty so far, which is nothing to sneeze at. 

Still, the challenge remains staggering: 385 million children live in extreme poverty, UNICEF reported in 2016. Some 15 million kids in the U.S., about one out of every five, live below the federal poverty line, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.

Red Nose Day also arrives this year in the shadow of the latest evidence of our failure to protect our children from gun violence – another public health crisis that underscores how we treat our youngest citizens.

The tenor of Red Nose Day, filled with people around the country wearing bright clown-like schnozzes sold by Walgreens, belies the seriousness of the cause. The live-from-New-York broadcast, hosted by Chris Hardwick, promises a mix of heart-tugging videos and humor. Julia Roberts, Ed Sheeran, Kelly Clarkson and Kristen Bell are among the stars expected to be part of the big night.

Jerry Lewis, who helped raise a reported $2.5 billion for the MDA over 44 years, knew how to put power of celebrity, too often abused, to good use. He also realized the potential impact of being silly for an important cause. Donning a red nose is no longer just a clown act.

Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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