Over the past 30 years Red Nose Day has been the #1 television fundraising event in the U.K. raising money and awareness for children in need. Thursday May 21st at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC in a star-studded three-hour event it’s crossing the pond to take over America!
Recently I sat down with funny man Jack Black to discuss his involvement with the Red Nose Day event and what he learned through his trip to Uganda where he experienced first hand the dire conditions many families are struggling to survive in. Along with Jack we spoke with Oscar nominee and Emmy Award-winning writer-director-producer Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Bridget Jones Diary,” “Notting Hill”) who created Red Nose Day back in 1985 to shed light on the devastating effects poverty has on children and their families and hopefully lead the way to make a positive change.
Full interview after the jump!
I’d like to hear kind of like a little bit of your overall philosophy because you’ve been doing this for much of your life. Over half of your life you’ve been doing some kind of fundraising. What is it about your nature or something that makes this important to you?
Richard Curtis: Gosh, you know, I consider myself a pretty average person. I think that there are two things.
I’ve never lost the belief because of things that I’ve seen, like Jack has seen in Uganda, that tiny bits of money can make a huge amount of difference. So it’s massively tempting when you think, “Well if I can do this I’ll raise $1000,” you think, “Well its $1000; that’s 250 malaria nets.” I can never get that out of my mind, that it’s an unbelievable reward for quite a simple action.
And then the length of it really is because it was surprisingly successful. It was like having a child and then you have to manage it. We made $15 million I think on the first one, and then $27 million on the second one and I didn’t know how to walk away.
So I’m just trying to be a responsible adult. But I do hugely believe in the effect that just the generosity of one human to another can – the difference that can make.
That’s great. And just one quick follow-up, as far as the tone you think this one will have here in America, because I know in England the Comic Relief’s been very much comedy oriented, when you Idol Gives Back it was very music oriented. How do you see this one being on NBC? Will it be very comedy or what are you looking for, for a general tone of this special?
Richard Curtis: Yes, I think it’s – look, there’s a little bit more of a broad entertainment streak, but the reason we picked Jack was because he’s a beloved comedian, as well as all his other dramatic skills. And I think I’m hoping people will get a lot of laughs, as well as emotional moments.
Richard, you obviously have done wonders in the U.K. with the show, now you’re bringing it to America. Is this going up a notch? Is the level of star that you’re bringing to the table and the attraction that you can bring to this, kind of going really into the super-super A List with what you’re doing? How do the stars compare?
Richard Curtis: Well that’s a very interesting question. I mean of course, you know, my sons don’t consider anyone in the U.K. famous. And if you tell them that Daniel Pudi from Community is in the show they go absolutely crazy. The idea that we’ve got John Krasinski in the show from the American Office makes me my sons’ most popular human.
But I think you’ll be impressed by one or two people. I mean we’ve just been shooting with Reese Witherspoon, Zac Efron, Liam Neeson and Richard Gere in the last couple of days. So I think there’s going to be, you know, a broad variety of, certainly people we wouldn’t dream of getting in the U.K. and doing here.
Jack we adore what you do on screen left, right and center. I wanted to ask you a question a little bit different regarding the whole wider skill.
Will you be bringing your (unintelligible) School of Rock guy, you won’t be bringing that to the musical remake of it, but will you be bringing any of that aspect to be, to musical aspects of the Red Nose event when it comes out, when it plays?
Jack Black: Well I mean I went out to Uganda and spent a lot of time with kids. That was – that’s kind of like School of Rock. There was a little bit of jamming, there was a little bit of music out there.
But at – yes, it was mostly just, I was out there as a reporter, just sort of letting people know what the situation was like in some of these poverty stricken neighborhoods and where their money would be going. And yes, I was – it’s a lot different obviously than going and doing a movie strictly for laughs.
Will you be jamming with anybody on Red Nose Day evening? Any secret collaborations you could tell us about.
Jack Black: Well if it was a secret I couldn’t tell you. But no, there’s no plans to do any jamming as of now. No, I’m going to leave the jamming to the professional jammers.
Richard Curtis: And when we did Idol Gives Back, do you remember Jack, you did a very passionate version of Kiss from a Rose?
Jack Black: Yes.
Richard Curtis: You remember that?
Jack Black: It was a little Kiss from a Rose, there was also an amazing little number I did with Robert Downey Jr. and…
Richard Curtis: Yes, and Midnight Train to Georgia.
Jack Black: …old what’s-his-name. That’s right. With Ben Stiller.
Richard Curtis: Yes.
Jack Black: I’ve had a lot of fun with Richard over the years. We’ve cooked up some cool stuff.
Richard Curtis: I mean there was a really sweet moment I don’t know whether you saw it, on the Today Show a couple of days ago, with Jack beatboxing with this little boy. I don’t think it’s going to be in our appeal on the night, but it did demonstrate, you know, what Jack came back with — the conclusion that these are normal gorgeous kids who would fool around…
Jack Black: Yes.
Richard Curtis: …with their dads in just the same way kids in America can. But they’ve got to spend their whole day picking up garbage.
Jack Black: Yes. Yes, I was the one doing most of the learning on that day; I wasn’t doing too much teaching, just sort of taking it all in.
I was wondering how the kids responded to the red nose when you had put on in Uganda?
Jack Black: We had some fun with the red nose. Everyone wanted a chance to try it on. There was a flurry of red nose activity. You know it’s as old as comedy, that red nose, and yet it still has some magic in it, unlike the pie to the face, which really seems to have faded over the decades. The red nose still somehow has survived the years of ridicule.
Richard Curtis: You have to say, in terms of malnutrition the pie in the face might be thought to be slightly tasteless…
Jack Black: Yes.
Richard Curtis: …in that context.
But they, by the way which you can see, we’ve got some amazing pictures of Jack and the kids and the noses. I don’t know if they are being circulated but if you go to the Red Nose Day people there are such beautiful, joyous shots of Jack fooling around, which you don’t see much of on the night. Because on the night we’re trying to, you know, portray the seriousness of it. But there are some wonderful pictures if you – if any of you want them.
And Jack, will your own kids be involved in Red Nose Day at all?
Jack Black: I don’t think that the kids are going to be doing anything in the show. They’re not quite ready for show biz, so to speak. But yes, they knew that their daddy went to Africa and they knew what that was about. I talked to them about it. But yes, they’re not directly involved in the charity as of now.
I know that you said you won’t be per se, “Jamming,” but is there anything about your performance that you can tell us about?
Jack Black: My performance is really something that I did in Africa. It was about me going there and being the eyes and ears for Red Nose Day on location. That was really my – the extent of my participation. The comedic and musical performances on the day are going to be a bunch of other people. I’m just going to be enjoying in the audience.
Richard Curtis: Can I just say something about Jack, which is that – and his films. One of the things that we’ve tried never to do on Red Nose Day, and I think is really important, is we don’t really want to send experts out.
The last thing anyone wants is someone talking about agricultural leaves and holistic, you know holistic health systems. What was so brilliant was that Jack went open-eyed as a normal human being. He just happens to be a human being that most people know or feel they know.
And so that’s what I think is so wonderful about the little films he’s made, that it’s like you’re there. You know, you’re not being lectured to by someone who knows everything about all the charities and the politics and the economics, you just are a human being reacting to other human beings, which is what we’re trying to do on the night; just make people identify with other people whose lives are hard and see if they can spare some money. And Jack just did that so beautifully.
I was wondering if you could talk about kind of the idea and the process of bringing Red Nose Day to the U.S.
Richard Curtis: Well, as you know it’s a obvious thing to me because there is – this is such a country of great comedy. I mean just at the moment there’s just so much extraordinary coming – comedy coming out of the country, so many great films. And it’s an amazingly generous country.
I did this first – the first Idol Gives Back and I think we raised $50 million or something from the public in a couple of hours. So it always seemed like a very natural thing to do, it’s just taken me this long to get round to it. And in a way, you know, just the particular people at NBC at the moment I mentioned it to them were really, really keen. So it all came out perfectly.
But it doesn’t seem to me there’s any reason, in terms of compassion and humor, that America shouldn’t be exactly the same as the U.K.
I wanted to find out from you on the trip that you made to Uganda, what for you was the – a memorable moment that really touched you the most during that trip?
Jack Black: You know, it was spending time with these kids and these parents and just seeing how amazing they were as people that really moved me the most. If it – if I had gone over there and just seen a bunch of victims that didn’t have any hope, it wouldn’t have been as powerful to me as seeing these kids that were so funny and talented and brilliant.
And I just was most blown away by the tragedy of the potential, you know, and these amazing people that I could see growing up and having amazing contributions to the world. And that’s what really gave me the deep sense of urgency, you know is that these kids have magic in them and they need to be, not just rescued, but you know, inspired.
They’re hungry for education just as much as they are for food, you know? It’s not just about survival; it’s also about like nurturing something really special. That was my biggest takeaway in general and the thing that moved me the most was just how great these kids were.
What do you feel like that you learned from this trip? You know maybe – I mean I don’t know if you’ve been to that area of the country – to that country before, but what do you feel like you really learned from them?
Jack Black: You know, I just I guess just part of living in my little bubble is just assuming that the whole world was modeling themselves after us, you know, that all of our music and all of our movie stars and all of our culture just trickles down.
And I was just sort of surprised to see amazing music and cultural stuff that was homegrown there in Uganda. And these kids making music that was in their own language and that was inspired and interesting. Just a different thought of Africa that I’d never really considered before. And that was the biggest eye-opener for me.
What you could tell us about what you think that teens especially will appreciate about the special and how you hope to get them involved on social media.
Richard Curtis: Okay, shall I jump in for a bit there because I’ve been working on the show. I mean I hope…
Jack Black: Yes.
Richard Curtis: …that people will see – kids will see a lot of things that they really, you know, love and enjoy. One of the – last night we were working on editing quite a big sketch that we’d been doing with the cast of Game of Thrones as you’ve never seen them before. And I think we’re going to be issuing a few things from that in advance so they’ll get a sense of it.
We’ve got you know, a huge number of movie stars from Anna Kendrick to Chris Pine involved, we’ve got Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins from Pitch Perfect, we’ve got Michelle Rodriguez from Fast and Furious, we’ve got a lovely sketch with the Voice and with Will Ferrell. So I think that, you know, it would be an odd child who wouldn’t love something during the course for the night. So I hope that they’ll all watch.
And one of the cunning things is obviously we want them to watch and then get their parents to sit down next to them and give some money. And you know, anything that can be done on that day, you know.
Any One Direction fan knows that One Direction went to Ghana last year. So we’d really love kids to watch it, you know encourage each other. And even encourage each other to do fund raising things, you know; to buy noses, to bake cakes, to you know, dye their hair red or stick themselves to doors.
I mean because as Jack’s seen, $5, if you’d hunt around the back of your couches and find something, $5, $4 for a malaria net can change a life. So I’m hoping that people will actually do fun things on the day, raise a bit of money themselves, watch the show, see people they love doing really unusual things, and then you know, make sure that their dad or mom’s wallet comes out of the back of their pocket or purse.
Jack Black: Well you know, I hope that the kids, when they see these other kids from across the world, will be inspired to help just as their parents can help, you know? It’s a real eye-opener for the whole family I think.
Richard Curtis: Yes and by the way, at the end of the – you know, all the way during the night you can donate online. It’s incredibly easy. And then at the end of the evening we’re also just doing donating by text.
So it really will be this strange thing that you just, you know, during a commercial break you can save someone’s life. It’s a bizarre thought, but even after 30 years I still believe in it. And I think social media can do so much to push things forward.
So anyone who finds something they see with either Jack or Michelle or Blake Shelton have done which is serious, spread that around because knowledge is power. And anybody who sees something funny spread that around too and get people to watch the show.
So I saw the video of the – of you and the boy from Uganda singing Let’s Feel It. What was it about Feel It that got you so emotional, do you think?
Jack Black: You know, he’s a really bright kid. And he’s a survivor in a way that I can’t imagine going through what he’s gone through at his age. I don’t think I would have survived.
And he’s also just sort of fun to hang out with. And that’s what really tugs at my heartstrings is when they’re someone I like, that’s all. It’s just simple. It’s just humanity, you know? And I hope that that comes through in the films that we shot in Uganda, because you know, when you can relate to a person that’s in trouble and you can see the potential there, I think you’re a lot more likely to lend a hand, you know?
Richard Curtis: Jack, you also met a couple of American doctors, didn’t you, who you – I think – I don’t know if you even knew, I don’t know if we knew they were going to be there.
Jack Black: Yes. Yes, that’s right. We were at a hospital in Uganda and actually I – it’s like “The” hospital of Uganda. And there was a couple foreign exchange doctors. Is that what you call them; foreign exchange doctors?
I don’t know if there was a real exchange. They just came over to learn and to help, you know, on a mission. And they were really bright and really admirable to go to, you know, the four corners of the world just to help people that are not of their land, is really inspiring. And I was glad we got a chance to talk to them a little bit too.
Another question I had for you of the Uganda trip, the – like the other children you met, do they know that you were – like who you were or anything about you? And how were you able to make them laugh? Like were you nervous about, you know, getting to reach these kids?
Jack Black: These kids did not know who I was. They had no idea about my movies. And that was actually kind of refreshing. I kind of liked that.
And how was I able to get them laughing; I mean they were making me laugh. It just sort of came naturally. We were walking around and I don’t know, I just – I guess that’s just my go-to when I meet some new people, I want to get the international language of laughter going. They don’t speak English, I don’t speak Luganda, so it was just a series of crazy faces and that leads to other funny shenanigans.
It was a really – it was a great day. It was painful, but it was also beautiful, if that makes any sense.
Jack Black: I have no regrets, no. I was in the end really glad that I was able to go and experience that. And yes, I just – my only regret will be if we didn’t communicate somehow how beautiful these people are, and you know, the potential that’s there. Because I really feel, you know, these people that are in trouble there, any one of them could grow up and save the world, could make incredible contributions to the planet. And I hope that was communicated. If it wasn’t then that would be my regret.
Richard Curtis: Well I hear the films are great so I don’t think you need worry about it. I regret ordering sea vegetables when we had lunch together, but that’s my only regret.
Jack Black: I’m sorry about that. That was my decision, that restaurant we went to. Next time it’s going to be straight ahead cheeseburger, apple pie.
So how did the trip come about? Richard, did you just call up Jack and go, “Hey, I want you to go to Uganda?”
Richard Curtis: Well actually you know, Jack and I had come across each other when we were doing this Idol thing. And then Jack was in the U.K. making Gulliver and I just got an invitation through a mutual friend to go out and have a bite of lunch with him.
And at that time Jack just said to me, “Look, you know, if you’re ever doing anything again like the Idol thing, feel free to give me a call.” And so when we decided, you know, no one makes an offer to Red Nose Day and doesn’t find they’ve been hooked on the line.
So I called him and it was just amazing, he came straight back and said, “I’m in.” I’ve got a feeling it was the shortest email I’ve ever received except the ones that say, “No.” But no, it was a mazing.
So it oddly enough started in 2007, met again in 2011 and then here he is suddenly getting on a plane in 2015.
Jack, when you – when he – when you said that did you think he’d say, “Hey, I want you to go to Uganda?”
Jack Black: You know, he didn’t bring up Uganda right out of the gate. That – yes he waited a few years before he dropped that one on me.
I mean yes, you spend some time with Richard and you see what he’s done in the U.K. with Red Nose Day and it’s just impossible to say no to the guy, or at least it was for me. I just – when you’ve had as charmed and lucky a life as I’ve had you’re already looking for opportunities to give back. And I don’t know anyone who’s as good at it as Richard. And yes, I found it irresistible. I wanted to jump on board and do some good.
A lot of times when people from the States go to third world countries and they come back they feel very differently about the excesses of this country and they have a hard time with that. Was that something that you experienced when you came back from Uganda?
Jack Black: Yes, there definitely was some shopper’s guilt. I don’t feel as free with my Amazon purchases, that’s for sure. I – yes, I’m definitely hyper-aware of my own personal excesses. Yes. Thank you very much.
What do you think gets people motivated to want to participate and give? Richard, you had 30 years’ experience with this; is it the comedy, the music, or do you think that the storytelling really opens their eyes and gets them the reality of what’s happening in other places?
Richard Curtis: Well, you know I think it’s the mixture. I mean it’s definitely the films, like the one that Jack’s made that eventually get them to give, you know. And we do try and say what the money will buy. So no one really watches a funny sketch and says, “I must give $10 to thank, you know, Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell for that joke.”
But that’s the way that we entertain people. And the big thing is we don’t see any contradictions between the two halves. You know, when I was in Ethiopia in 1986, and this seems to be everything that Jack’s saying, you just see extraordinary people who want to love, want to have normal lives, want to fulfill their potential. So I don’t think there’s anything disrespectful abut trying to be as stupid and as funny and entertaining as possible and then just, you know, once every 20 minutes remind of our shared humanity.
So it’s the little appeal films which are full of sort of grace in humor in their own way, that make the money, and I think the comedy that makes people stay watching. That’d be my sentiment.
It’s a pleasure. And everybody who works in any of the projects, as Jack will have seen in the hospital, they work a lot harder than I’ve done, you know. I’m equally aware of being lucky. And I just hope that we can – you know, you can all help us bring a big audience to the night. I promise you they’ll have a great time. And if we raise a lot of money I hope that we can raise twice as much the next year.
Jack Black: Agreed.
Many young people will be watching the show with their parents and perhaps seeing other children in these circumstances for the first time, so what advice can you give other parents about talking to their kids about gratitude?
Richard Curtis: I don’t know that it’s about – I mean, I’m interested to hear what Jack says here. I don’t know that it’s about gratitude, I think it’s about sort of compassion and fellowship. You know, I just think the – in the film that Michelle Rodriguez has made she’s watching a little 6 year-old who leaves school after 2 hours every day and works for 6 hours turning bricks in a mine.
You know, and it’s good for us all to know that this is the way that other people live, but also on this one night to believe you can make a difference. Instead of closing your eyes and saying, “This is too hard and I’m too far away,” just to say, “Well actually I can help (Juliette), I can actually do something.
So I think it’s, rather than making people feel guilty, I hope it’s going to make people feel powerful because they’ll feel, “I can do something tonight, we can do something together as a family.”
Jack Black: Well personally, you know, I just like to talk to my kids like they’re human beings and not talk down to them. And if I’m concerned about something I’ll talk to them about, you know, the way – the things I think about the world and what would make the world a better place. You know, you don’t have to shelter them from everything.
I think it’s a mistake we make as parents in general nowadays is protecting kids from sadness and protecting them from, you know, the dark corners of the world, when sometimes those are things that they wonder about but never talk about because they don’t know if they should or could or would. You’ve got to treat them like, not adults, but as human beings, you know. Talk to them about things.
For more information about Red Nose Day please visit http://www.nbc.com/red-nose-day