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IT'S HARDLY A HANDICAP TO BE FUNNY : 'Crazy Legs' Fonseca Uses a Walker to Get on Stage--After That, It's Just for Laughs

June 17, 1993|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who regularly writes about comedy for OC Live!

Audiences that have never seen Chris (Crazy Legs) Fonseca perform may not know how to react when he first steps wobbly on stage with his walker. But Fonseca, who has cerebral palsy, immediately puts the crowd at ease with his self-deprecating humor, finely honed material and keen sense of timing.

"I'm handicapped, and I'm Mexican," he says with a distinct speech impediment after settling into a chair on stage. "So you know what that means. If you make me mad, I'm gonna pull a knife and we're both gonna get hurt."

Fonseca acknowledges that audiences that see him for the first time don't know what to think.

"They don't know whether I'm faking or whether I'm going to go up and look for sympathy or exactly what I'm up to.

"I try to make them realize in the first joke or two that I know I'm handicapped, I know that they know I'm handicapped and that it's OK. I try to make it not so much a sympathy thing, but just my point of view--that I was born handicapped, I'll always be handicapped, so why not make the best of it."

As he says on stage: "People think that since I'm handicapped I believe the world owes me a living. Well, no, but a CD player would be nice."

As Arsenio Hall said in introducing Fonseca on the comic's first of two appearances on Hall's show this year, Fonseca "doesn't let his handicap get in the way of a good time."

The 29-year-old comic--who's performing at the Irvine Improv this week--grew up in Ft. Morgan, Colo. He made his stand-up debut in 1984 during a talent show at a junior college in Trinidad, Colo., where he was student body president.

"We were having trouble getting people to participate, so I thought if I would volunteer to make a fool of myself by trying to be a comedian, others would follow with real talent," he recalled by phone from his hotel room in Los Angeles last week.

His five minutes of jokes went over well enough that Fonseca nabbed third place; a group of tap dancers took first place and a bunch of guys lip-syncing the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" came in second. (Actually, Fonseca beat himself: He was one of the lip-syncers and one of two guys wearing dresses for the number.)

Fonseca didn't make a repeat stand-up performance until a year later when, for fun, he showed up for several open-mike nights at a Denver comedy club. By then he was a journalism major at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and working as assistant editor of the campus newspaper.

When the newspaper editor quit a couple of months into the fall semester of his senior year, Fonseca said, "I assumed that I would become editor because I had kind of been running things."

As it turned out, he said, an English major with less journalism experience than Fonseca had was chosen as the new editor.

"It boiled down to the publication board felt the staff couldn't deal with a handicapped editor. I felt I was more than qualified. I had really tried to keep things together" when they were without an editor.

Losing out on the job was enough for Fonseca to abandon any dreams of a career in journalism and turn to stand-up comedy.

"I decided I needed to do something where I can use my handicap as an asset rather than a liability," he said.

"I think I got my sense of humor from my great-grandpa, who was also handicapped," Fonseca tells his audiences. "He told me one time, 'You handicapped people have it easy today. When I was a kid we didn't even have wheelchairs. I had to be dragged to school.' "

He finds his handicap has always worked to his advantage in comedy.

"I stand out. There aren't many handicapped comedians."

Once he gets the handicapped jokes out of the way, Fonseca just talks about life in general.

"For example, I have a new favorite TV show. It's a show where cops help people with really bad hairdos. It's called 'Rescue 90210.' "

Fonseca, who has been married two years, also does material on married life: "My wife hasn't been working. She's been 'finding herself.' So I bought her a map and wrote, 'You are here.' "

Comedian Mike Lindsay, who has known Fonseca since they were both starting out in stand-up in Colorado, says that what's true for any comic applies to Chris.

"To be a good comic, you have to have the ability to see the humor in your own life and the things around you. Chris has that ability, combined with a very good ability as a writer to translate the things in the world and the things he sees in his life into humor on stage."

As for Fonseca's handicap, Lindsay said: "Laughter is the universal equalizer. And the fact is that Chris has them laughing right in the beginning, and that puts everyone at ease.

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