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Fighting Domestic Violence With Music and Comedy


Domestic violence strikes in the U.S. at an alarming rate. Every nine seconds a woman or child is battered, according to the Justice Department, and ongoing violence exists in 25% of relationships described as intimate.

Those figures are certainly nothing to joke about. Yet there should be plenty of laughs this weekend at Miles Square Park in Fountain Valley during a fund-raiser for the Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation, which the Brown family established to fund organizations offering shelter and counseling to women who have been abused.

Stand-up comedy at a benefit to fight domestic violence? Organizers of the Zazou Comedy & Music Festival--featuring 25 stand-up comedians, 15 musical acts and a handful of professional skateboarders, all of whom are donating their services Saturday and Sunday--see humor as one weapon to fight back. (See schedule, F2.)

"Domestic violence is such a heavy area that we decided that all of our fund-raising efforts would have a very light, upbeat and positive tone," Denise Brown, Nicole's sister and the foundation's CEO, said recently by phone from foundation headquarters in Dana Point. "Zazou means 'wacky' in French. The people who come out to support us know where their money is going . . . to help stop the violence.

"So if we address the cause for five or 10 minutes, that's enough," she said. "I want everyone who supports us to have a good time, not get depressed."

Comedian Craig Shoemaker, best known for his risque LoveMaster persona, agrees.

"I've had death and tragedy in my life, and I do believe in the healing powers of laughter and rejoicing," he said. "Look at Norman Cousins. There's someone who cured himself of cancer through laughter. Period. True story."

But Shoemaker, who performs Sunday night, still faces the challenge of being funny while maintaining decorum at an event with serious overtones. The man honored as the best stand-up comedian at last year's American Comedy Awards said he's willing to walk that tightrope.

"It is one of the most difficult things to pull off," said Shoemaker, who was fired in July as Magic Johnson's sidekick on "The Magic Hour," not long before the show itself was canceled. "You realize you've come together because someone was beat up and killed. But the other side of it is . . . how many lives can be saved because of it? I think we can rejoice in that."

"Each routine I do involves a different approach and some form of adaptation," he said. "At an event like this--where there are families--I'll watch what I say. I'm not gonna have Barbara Bush walk nasty for the LoveMaster.

"That said, there's no one in the world that won't be offended by something a comedian says or does," he said. "If I was going to protect everyone out there, there'd be no humor."


The Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation got off to a rocky start in 1994 with a series of gaffes--including accepting money from donors like Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, and hiring a convicted felon as its president.

According to Brown, the foundation's staff has learned from its naivete and lapses in judgment. Personnel changes were made, and to date, she said, more than $300,000 in grants has been awarded to such Orange County shelters as Interval House and Human Options.

The foundation is looking to broaden its scope. In addition to awarding funds to applicants deemed worthy, Brown said, the foundation is in the planning stages for a transitional-housing program.

"These existing shelters are wonderful, but where do the women go after 30 to 45 days?" she asked. "Well, most go back home--back to the batterer--if they have no place else to go. So we've decided to pursue a long-term housing facility where victims can go for up to 18 months, maybe even two years."

Brown has met with Jim Palmer, president of the Orange County Rescue Mission, to "kick around ideas to help the women [improve their] self-esteem and be more self-sufficient . . . to get them off of welfare and maybe working toward obtaining GEDs."

Equally important, adds Brown, is eradicating common misperceptions about domestic violence.

"There's this belief that, 'Oh, it just can't happen to me' . . . or 'Not here in our community,' " she said. "Another typical thing people say is, 'Why do the abused women stay?' What they should be asking is, 'Why do the batterers hit?' Once our mind-set gets turned around, I think we'll all be better off."


The Tories, an L.A. pop band that plays the Zazou festival Sunday evening, are no stranger to benefits. Over the past year, the fledgling quartet was part of VH-1's Save the Music nationwide tour, a campaign dedicated to raising money for public school music programs. And in June, the group participated in a local celebrity pool tournament to benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles.

Although the Tories lend negligible star power to the lineup, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Steve Bertrand said the foursome can't afford not to get involved in worthwhile causes.

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