IF THEY turned what's happening to America into a science-fiction movie, it would be called "The Incredible Shrinking Country."

Check the size of GM, now called Government Motors. Check the size of your 401(k). My God, even Howard Eskin's ego has gone down a few sizes! (I apologize for that gratuitous, cheap shot at Mr. Eskin, done solely for the purpose of comedy.)

Observing the great continental contraction in which we find ourselves being squeezed like a python's prey, the 19th annual Stu Bykofsky Candidates Comedy will be smaller than last year's (which was overloaded with some 16 candidates). That made for a very long (although sporadically hilarious) night.

This year there will be a mere six candidates, but a half-dozen of such extraordinary quality and brilliance as to challenge the firmament above and to make the gods weep with envy. (Like the flowery Shakespearean stuff?)

This year's show will be on Wednesday, Aug. 19.

If any of this comes as news to you, the annual event gets politicians up on stage to entertain you, the people, and is a fundraiser for Variety, the Children's Charity, which serves handicapped children in the tri-state area. The show will be staged at its customary home, the third floor of Finnigan's Wake, 3rd and Spring Garden.

In no particular order, playing for laughs will be Seth Williams, the Democratic candidate for district attorney, and his Republican challenger, Michael Unter-meyer, who has been a Republican a few months longer than Arlen Specter has been a Democrat. The other local attractions are Republican controller candidate Al Schmidt, who is running against the incumbent, Democrat Alan Butkovitz.

Since there's never any predicting what the wild and woolly politicians may do or say, this year's show will have a pinch of judicial temperament - state Supreme Court candidates.

Republican Joan Orie Melvin is a return candidate, having last appeared in 2003, when she last ran for the high court, losing out to Democrat Max Baer (more of him in a moment). Butkovitz is also a returning show veteran. (Count on Melvin to display the wisdom of a white woman.)

The Democratic high-court nominee, Jack Panella, hails from Bethlehem and hadn't heard of the show, but was quick to agree to perform.

To guarantee laughs, all-star comic and mimic Joe Conklin will perform, bruising the egos of the elite with his wiseguy cracks and unerring impersonations.

In an economy in which even world-class Philadelphia Orchestra members have taken pay cuts (will they be busking in the SEPTA concourse?), show-ticket prices remain unchanged for the fourth year - $60 apiece, $600 for a table of 10. (Do the math, you'll see I'm right.)

Oh! I mentioned Max Baer, now on the Supreme Court. He so enjoyed doing the Candidates Comedy Night, he instigated the start of one in Pittsburgh last year, so the Philly comedy night is no longer unique, but is the Old Original. Like Bookbinder's.

The show has zero overhead, as entertainers, crew, waitstaff, everyone works for free. All receipts go to Variety. Checks should be made out to "Variety" and should be mailed to Variety, c/o Ellen Ganley, 2nd floor, 1520 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19102. For credit-card orders, call Ganley at 215-735-0803. Tables are assigned in the order of payment received. Early checks = best seats.

No exceptions. *

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns: