Friday, May 15, 2015

Inside Jack Black’s Red Nose Day Challenge

Courtesy of Red Nose Day

Charity fundraising is a serious business. Unless, of course, the organization in question is Red Nose Day. Known to British citizens and the Anglophiles who love them for decades, the biennial event encourages every day folks and celebrities alike to “cast inhibitions aside, put on a Red Nose and fundraise,” according to the official website. Founded by filmmaker Richard Curtis of “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually” fame, Red Nose Day is making its way to the U.S. for the very first time on May 21. 

As is the case in the U.K., Red Nose Day culminates with a live benefit show that will be televised on NBC. The star-studded night of comedy and musical performances will include some of the biggest names in entertainment including Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston and Christina Aguilera. 

The show will also include pre-taped segments of stars who accepted challenges that spotlight the 12 charitable organizations that will benefit from the big event. In a recent conference call interview, actor-comedian-musician Jack Black talked about his life-changing experience on a trip to Africa for Red Nose Day.

Black explained his mission, “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… It's a lot different, obviously, than going and doing a movie strictly for laughs.”

Although he’s a major star across the world, the locals of Kampala did not recognize Black when he arrived in the capitol city. He admitted, “These kids did not know who I was. They had no idea about my movies. And that was actually refreshing. I kind of liked that.”

The local children could not speak English and Black didn’t know their native tongue, Luganda, but he found a way to communicate with them through humor. “I mean they were making me laugh. It just sort of came naturally. We were walking around and I guess that's just my go-to when I meet some new people, I want to get the international language of laughter going… So it was just a series of crazy faces and that leads to other funny shenanigans. It was a great day. It was painful, but it was also beautiful, if that makes any sense.”

Not surprisingly, the iconic red nose was a part of the fun. “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.”

Perhaps the strongest connection that Black made amidst the laughter was with Felix, a 12-year-old orphan who has been living on the streets for three years. “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,” Black conceded. “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.” 

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Black was able so share a “School of Rock”-type musical moment with Felix, too. The Tenacious D star recounted beat boxing with the boy, “There was a little bit of jamming. There was a little bit of music out there.” 

But Black was quick to point out that the Ugandan locals aren’t totally swayed by Hollywood’s influence. “Part of living in my little bubble is just assuming that the whole world was modeling themselves after us — 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.

Now Black wants to open the eyes of Red Nose viewers back in America. “It's just humanity and I hope that that comes through in the films that we shot in Uganda,” said Black, “because when you can relate to a person that's in trouble and you can see the potential there, you're a lot more likely to lend a hand… 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.” 

As for how the trip personally impacted him, Black remarked, “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 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. I just was most blown away by the tragedy of the potential 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 is that these kids have magic in them and they need to be, not just rescued but inspired. They're hungry for education just as much as they are for food. It's not just about survival; it's also about nurturing something really special.”

To find out how you can make a donation visit the Red Nose Day website. Download the Red Nose Day app to get in on the action. And tune in to the Red Nose Day special on Thursday, May 21 at 8 p.m. EST/PST on NBC.

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