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Comic's Insight on Intolerance Finds a New Forum : Profile: When he's not playing clubs, Alex Valdez--who is blind--gives motivational talks on overcoming and looking past disabilities.

August 18, 1995|GLENN DOGGRELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just because Alex Valdez is blind doesn't mean he can't use a computer, or mow his lawn in Santa Ana. The stand-up comic does both, in fact, albeit with a few twists.

"When I had a push mower it was no problem because I could hear where I was going," he said last week. "But the electric mower is so loud it throws off my depth perception. What I do is make a few passes, then my girlfriend tells me what I missed. I specialize in argyle and zigzag patterns.

"I can edge real well. I just keep it up against the concrete. That makes a real loud noise compared to grass."

Valdez--who is at the Improv in Brea through Sunday with his partner Jim O'Brien--also has entered the computer world (complete with a regular and a Braille printer) despite initial fears that he would punch a wrong key and his voice-synthesized investment "would become one big paperweight."

"I can [feed it] articles from newspapers and magazines and it will read to me out loud what's on the screen. Then I can type in at the keyboard. I'm tapping my way down the computer highway. Luckily I had a third-grade teacher who thought blind people should type."

Such lessons weren't lost on Valdez, 40, who lost one eye to glaucoma when he was 4 and the other to a detached retina at 7. When he and O'Brien aren't performing, Valdez travels the country giving motivational speeches, urging people to overcome or to look past disabilities. He has worked with politicians, business leaders and youth groups. Coming up: sessions with AT&T and the FBI.

"What I tell them is that the disabilities that have impaired me are the disabilities of spirit and soul, not the body."

He says response has been good to his talks, which last about 40 minutes with comedy sprinkled throughout.

"I draw a parallel to the paralysis of fear, not of the legs, that can keep us from moving forward. To the blindness of pride and unforgiveness that can keep us from seeing love. . . . I talk about courage, forgiveness and faith--tools I've used to overcome these disabilities."

He and O'Brien hooked up about 10 years ago when Valdez was an emcee at the now-defunct Laff Stop in Newport Beach and O'Brien--a master of sound effects who worked with Jay Leno, Robin Williams and David Letterman in the mid-'70s--was performing there. They toured regularly, as many as 35 weeks a year, until last summer when they decided to take a break to pursue other interests.

"We're doing selective dates this year, picking clubs we've had a good reception in," Valdez said. "We're not killing ourselves on the road week after week. It has added a new spark to the act."

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Their routine focuses on accepting the disabled ("People ask me why I don't wear sunglasses or shades," says Valdez. "I tell them I've never seen a deaf person wearing earmuffs") and goes beyond that to tweak all sorts of stereotypes (the working-class Irish-Catholic O'Brien quips: "No drinking in our family"). Their first audiocassette, "The Round-Up," featuring 30 minutes of their best pieces, was recorded in Brea two months ago and is available at shows.

O'Brien, Valdez and some friends are shaping a sitcom they hope to pitch to TV. "I believe a show with a disabled person in one of the major roles would open doors and most importantly educate America," Valdez said. "It would give people a chance to look at a person with a disability and say, 'Hey, he's just like us.' It's an attitude awareness. That's the bottom line. When attitudes change toward persons with disabilities, that's when the disabled will be able to open doors and walk in."

*

He also would like to produce a kids' TV show in which a disabled character would interact with able-bodied children. "When you work with kids," he said, "there are no barriers. They don't care if you're blind, deaf or in a wheelchair." He told of a friend's son who saw a man in a wheelchair and shouted out: "Hey, does that come with a remote?"

"That kid did not see the disability at all. What he saw was this cool electric chair. If you could educate kids at a young age, without prejudices, it would be wonderful."

* O'Brien & Valdez perform through Sunday at the Improv, 945 E. Birch St., Brea. $8 to $10. Call for show times: (714) 529-7878.

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