‘Celebrity Escape Room’ lets Ben Stiller put a fresh take on Red Nose Day

NBC special teams several stars to earn winnings for charity

Adam Scott, Courteney Cox, Jack Black, Lisa Kudrow and Ben Stiller (from left) participate in “Celebrity Escape Room” during NBC’s annual Red Nose Day-themed night Thursday.

This year, Red Nose Day may be more of an escape than ever.

The sixth annual U.S. edition of the event to raise funds to benefit the world’s children will borrow a page from other recent television specials as NBC broadcasts it Thursday, May 21, with “This Is Us” stars Mandy Moore and Justin Hartley as hosts. Rather than gather celebrities in one location to perform and/or give information, the program will be staged “virtually” due to the coronavirus pandemic, with stars contributing segments from wherever they are.

Though a special edition of “Hollywood Game Night” often has been an element of the evening, the night starts this time with “Celebrity Escape Room” — filmed before the pandemic — with executive producer Ben Stiller joined by Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) and ex-“Friends” Courteney Cox and Lisa Kudrow in racing time to escape and earn winnings to donate to Red Nose Day. Jack Black, also an executive producer of the show, serves as the gleefully devious “Game Master.”

“A group of my friends had this idea to do something for Red Nose Day that was a little bit different,” Stiller explains. “I’ve been involved with it over the years, and they’re always doing new, fun and exciting things. Richard Curtis (the ‘Love Actually’ filmmaker who co-created the initiative) has really made it a very interactive event.

“I had not done a lot of escape rooms, which I probably should have before I pitched this idea,” muses Stiller. “Being a part of the producing team, I was not allowed to see anything … so basically, I did nothing except show up on the day (of filming) and be totally surprised. And wish that I had done nothing but be a producer on the show, because it was so stressful.”

Stiller hopes it’s obvious “Celebrity Escape Room” was made pre-coronavirus, since the close quarters leave no room for social distancing. “There’s a mascot head that gets shared by everybody, and that would never happen now,” he notes. “When you’re in there, you have to bond with everybody, and you learn that different people have different skill sets. You have to work together to be successful.”

Widely praised for directing the 2018 Showtime drama “Escape at Dannemora,” Stiller (whose father Jerry passed recently) has more home-screen projects in the works, maintaining an interest in making TV that dates back before his Emmy-winning “The Ben Stiller Show” in the early 1990s.

“I grew up watching television,” he reflects. “I love movies, too, but that was where I was spending my time. When I was a kid watching it, TV influenced what I wanted to do as an actor. There’s something comforting about TV, though if you watch too much of it, you can sink into it and your life disappears.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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