Sex jokes and De Niro in last night's Comic Relief

Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg, the three hosts of Comic Relief VIII, held last night at Radio City Music Hall to benefit the homeless, joked their way through the three-and-a-half-hour-plus event to earn $2.5 million in donations by the end of the live East Coast broadcast. (Much higher final earnings are expected.) It was the organization’s first show since 1995, but the increasingly busy hosts — who met the night before for two hours to plan their routines — downplayed rumors that it would be their last. “It’s good to keep everybody shook up,” Goldberg said after the show, “but we’re not gone yet.”

The broadcast featured stand-up by Chris Rock, Rosie O’Donnell, and Ray Romano, as well as a 90th-birthday tribute to Milton Berle. Since it was aired on HBO, adult language was no barrier, especially in Rock’s blisteringly funny take on President Clinton’s sex conundrum. The show even featured nudity, courtesy of “Mr. Show”‘s Bob Odenkirk, who ran onstage covered only with a strategically placed hand for a game of “Naked Phrase-Guess.” The night’s most popular jokes, of course, were about everyone’s favorite subject: “Viagra is this year’s Dan Quayle,” explained Goldberg.

Even with a roomful of comics backstage, the ambience was mellow. “Funny people do not walk around throwing pies in each other’s faces,” said Rock. The one participant who did get everyone excited was Robert De Niro. Appearing at the behest of Billy Crystal, with whom he is currently filming the Harold Ramis comedy “Analyze This,” De Niro gave an intro to a video segment on homelessness. “I was having a conversation, and he walked in, and I just gasped,” said Sarah Jessica Parker. “I didn’t say anything to him. He’s just too talented.” But “Suddenly Susan”‘s Kathy Griffin claimed to have had a better rapport: “Bobby and I are having a drink around 11. So we’re going to slam a few back, get jiggy, and come back and do a Q&A.”