Clowning Around Nets $31.5 Million

America’s iteration of Red Nose Day reeled in $31.5 million on Thursday, including $18 million from retail partner Walgreens. The second-year event, which benefits children living in poverty domestically and abroad, improved upon last year’s totals by more than $8 million.

NBC’s “Red Nose Day Special,” hosted by Craig Ferguson, put a cherry — or crimson rubber ball — atop the day. The live telethon featured dozens of celebrity entertainers including Elton John, Will Ferrell, Tracy Morgan and Ellen DeGeneres.

Red was prominently featured throughout the day. Red Nose Day partners Walgreens, NBC and M&M’s, which also contributed $1 million, rang in the day by sounding NASDAQ’s opening bell. The Empire State Building in New York, Willis Tower in Chicago and U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles all shone red.

Red Nose Day trended on Twitter and Facebook and donations were collected throughout the day, according to Janet Scardino, CEO of Comic Relief Inc., an independent sister organization of London’s Comic Relief U.K., which runs Red Nose Day.

“There were so many different activities happening yesterday — a real crescendo to several weeks of build up around Red Nose Day,” she said in an email. “We had truly extraordinary support across multiple tech platforms — including Google, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Bitmoji and messaging apps like Viber and Kik — which helped to make Red Nose Day incredibly visible and show up in really innovative ways.”

Walgreens’ $18 million included dollars collected selling Red Noses and Red Flair and contributions made by customers at checkout. Sales and at-register donations will continue through June 4, she said, potentially adding to the total generated. Scardino attributed Red Nose Day’s improvement on last year’s totals to an increase in public awareness and growing partnerships.

All funds raised during the event will go to the Red Nose Day Fund, which further distributes grants to charities helping children and young people living in poverty. Half of dollars are spent stateside, while the other half is used overseas. Charity partners include Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Children’s Health Fund, Feeding America and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Red Nose Day focuses on both urgent and longterm needs, Scardino said.

Writer/director Richard Curtis of Love Actually and Notting Hill fame served as an executive producer for the NBC event and came up with the idea for Red Nose Day in the U.K. decades ago. The event has raised over $1 billion globally over the past 25 years. America’s version differs in several ways – including its aligning with domestic media and shopping habits – but the belief in the power of entertainment underlines both, according to Scardino.

“We are at the beginning of an incredible journey of engagement, awareness-building and education – and the opportunities ahead for the event and the impact we can make are enormous,” she said.