"I'VE BEEN WAITING since February for this phone call," said Rick Hellberg. He was talking about my call inviting him to participate in the annual Stu Bykofsky Candidates Comedy Night, marking its 20th anniversary this year.

It could be that Rick was displaying a sense of humor, because this Republican is challenging eight-term U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in the 2nd Congressional District. Because of his political longevity, Chaka holds the record for show appearances, eight.

Rick is - let's be charitable and say - a long shot, even in what's billed as a year when incumbents are threatened. (R.I.P., Arlen Specter). So, give Rick, who works for a financial-services company, credit for courage.

No. 2 in number of appearances is 1st CD Rep. (and Democratic City Committee Chairman) Bob Brady, who has no opponent. Nada. Most candidates buy a table at the event, but Brady usually buys two - one for himself and one for the opponent he doesn't have.

For those arriving at the party late, tables are sold to candidates and the public because the show is a fundraiser for Variety, the Children's Charity, which serves local children with disabilities.

In its 19 years, the show has raised more than $375,000 for the charity. That total will pass $400,000 this year.

Show headliners are gubernatorial candidates Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato. Corbett is the the state attorney general and Onorato is what they call county executive in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's "other" city. Corbett is a Candidates Comedy Night veteran, so he knows what to expect.

A race that will be intensely watched nationally pits Democrat Joe Sestak (another show veteran) against Republican Pat Toomey for the U.S. Senate seat held by Specter. So far, Toomey and Sestak have been respectful of each other. (But we can hope, can't we?)

In the 6th D, incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach is a show first-timer, as is his opponent, Democratic challenger Manan Trivedi, a doctor and an Iraq-war veteran.

In the 8th CD, some sad news. Republican Mike Fitzpatrick won't show up to perform for the kids supported by Variety. His Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep Patrick Murphy, will be there for Variety's kids, as always.

Representing the 13th CD, incumbent Democrat Allyson Schwartz, another show veteran, is challenged by Republican Dee Carson Adcock, who's hot to trot.

So much for the candidates. This year brings a new co-host to the show, my hard-working colleague Jenice Armstrong, who'll pretty up the stage and protect me if I bomb. (She has a brown belt.) The superb Joe Conklin is again the professional comedy headliner.

The show is set for Tuesday, Aug. 10, at Finnigan's Wake, 3rd & Spring Garden. Doors open at 7:30, show starts at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $75 each, tables of 10 are $750. Tickets are tax-deductible, all receipts go to Variety. Checks should be made out to "Variety" and mailed to Comedy Night, Variety, 2nd floor, 1520 Locust St., Phila., Pa. 19102. For credit-card orders, call Jennifer Bykofsky (we are not related; she is just my wife) at 215-735-0803, Ext. 10. Tables are assigned in the order of checks being received. Early checks = best seats.

No kidding.

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