On a warm June evening in Holly wood the world famous Improv on Melrose Avenue was filled to capacity. The crowd included several well-known celebrity comics: Kevin Nealon, Bob Saget, Norm Crosby. Judy Tenuta and Damon Wayans, Director John Landis and writer/director Barry Blaustein were also in the crowd. KABC entertainment reporter George Pennacchio and his film crew were covering the entire evening. Comic Kathy Buckley (No Labels, No Limits) hosted, comic Fred Burns (America’s Funniest People) warmed up the audience, actor Robert David Hall (CSI) welcomed everyone and producer Fern Field (Monk) provided the reason for 20 comics with dis abilities to compete for a $1,500 scholarship to assist in their career. The Improv reported it was the biggest weeknight attendance in years. The laughter was loud, the company was wonderful and the talent was spectacular.
It was the 4th Annual Norman G. Brooks Stand Up Comedy Scholarship Competition presented by the Caledonia Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Dis abilities and the Media Access Office. Fern Field, who founded the Media Access Office over 20 years ago, funds the scholarship in honor of her late husband, producer Norman G. Brooks.
The comics competing for this year’s scholarship came to the stage with different levels of experience. Some had been doing the stand-up circuit for years, while others were getting their first taste of performing their routines before a live audience. The 2003 Stand-Up Comedy: Scholarship recipient was Tanya Lee Davis, who had returned for her second shot at gold. Tanya Lee, all 3 feet 6 inches of her, performed standing on the seat of a chair. She told the crowd that children, with their brutal honesty, often ask her. “What happened to you?” Tanya Lee’s response. “I didn’t eat my vegetables when I was your age.”
Other finalists included Jeff Charlebois, who bills himself as a sit-down comic who’s always on a roll. Charlebois. always a bridesmaid, never a bride, has been a scholarship finalist in the competition all four years. Dena Diamond, who performed comedy for the first time at last year’s competition, has been invited back to the Improv several times. She told the audience “Being blind is like being drunk. I’m constantly bumping into things, at the end of the evening I usually end up with the ugliest guy and I feel like I can still drive, even though I really shouldn’t.” Rosie Reed, doing stand-up for the first time, con fides. “I’m a quadra triple minority, a black woman with a spinal cord injury and my breasts are real!” Reed received an acting scholarship from Fern Field’s guest and well-known acting coach Janet Alhanti at her Los Angeles studio. Since the competition, Reed’s comedy has been pleasing audiences in comedy houses all over town.
The Media Access Office, now a project of the California Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and the State Employment Development Department, has a membership of more than 900 performers with disabilities. As well as serving the entertainment community as a consultant and casting liaison, they offer many classes and scholarships to their members including stand-up comedy classes that have been taught by Kathy Buckley and Fred Burns.
For Information about becoming a member of the Media Access Office or to receive their monthly newsletter call 818.752 1196