What’s funny about being a little person? Plenty! Can you really find comedy using a wheelchair? You bet! A standup comedy showcase for comedians with disabilities? Absolutely! Welcome to the Sixth Annual Norman G. Brooks Standup Comedy Showcase, presented by the Media Access Office (a program of the California Employment Development Department) and the Friends of Californians with Disabilities.
Held in various Los Angeles comedy clubs, including the Laugh Factory and the famed Hollywood IMPROV, the annual event started in 1999 as a comedy scholarship competition. Through the years it has become one of the most entertaining shows in the Hollywood community, with rising comedians playing to overflow crowds. The Norman G. Brooks Comedy Showcase has garnered the support of many leading Hollywood comedians and comic actors, including Drew Carey and his improvisational troupe, Damon Wayans, Judy Tenuta, Kevin Nealon, Michael Welch, Geri Jewell, Kathy Buckley, Norm Crosby and director John Landis. Comic legend Phyllis Diller and actor/director Malcolm-Jamal Warner are co-chairing this year’s event, with Fred Burns and Tanyalee Davis, both former event winners, as the hosts with the mosts.
Since its conception, the showcase has been sponsored by Fern Field, co-executive producer of the television show Monk, as a tribute to her late husband, Norman G. Brooks. Together Field and Brooks founded the Media Access Awards, which recognize and encourage accurate portrayals of people with disabilities in television, film, radio, theater and print. The Media Access Awards created the groundwork for the development of the Media Access Office, which works through a variety of efforts to combat myths, prejudices and fears and reshape the images, perceptions and attitudes held toward people with disabilities.
Along with its role as one of the top comedic events in the city, the Norman G. Brooks Standup Comedy Showcase is also a fundraiser to support educational programs that further enhance the opportunities for actors and entertainers with disabilities.
To support the comedy event or for more information, contact the Media Access Office
Welcoming the Co-Chairs
Comedienne, actress, author, recording artist, spokesperson, gourmet cook, entrepreneur, concert pianist, philanthropist, humanitarian and unquestionably one of the most beloved people in show business, Phyllis Diller is a woman loved and admired by millions.
As a professional comic who writes her own rapidfire comedy routines, Diller has headlined in virtually every major supper club in the U.S. and in scores around the world. She has appeared in 16 movies and countless television specials and shows, recorded five major comedy albums, written four best-selling books and found time to help thousands throughout the world. A piano soloist, Diller has appeared with 100 symphony orchestras across the country. She has established her own chili, Phyllis Diller’ Original Recipe, a line of La Vie beauty products and Phyllis Diller Creations jewelry.
Diller has been acknowledged and honored by many organizations for her patriotic, philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors. For her contributions in entertainment, she received a star on the legendary Walk of Fame in Hollywood.
Emmy-nominated actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner found his comedy roots as Bill Cosby’s son Theo Huxtable in the revered comedy The Cosby Show. An accomplished actor on screen and stage, writer (his autobiography Theo and Me was released in 1988), director and producer, Warner’s credits include television series Malcolm and Eddie and Jeremiah and movies The Tuskegee Airmen, Tyson and Desperate Exit. Warner made his feature film debut in Drop Zone and co-starred in Restaurant and A Fare to Remember.
A seasoned director, Warner has directed episodes of The Cosby Show, Malcolm and Eddie, Keenan and Kel, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, All That and Sesame Street. Warner also directed the video Time Out: The Truth about HIV, AIDS and You, which earned him an NAACP Key of Life Image Award.
Warner is currently starring in CBS’s sitcom Listen Up with Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander. Named after Malcolm X and legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal, Warner fronts his jazz funk band Miles Long, which has opened for several high-profile acts.
Taking Center Stage
“My name is Michael Beers. I’m an Aries. I enjoy long walks…” Thanks Michael, but wrong bio. Born and raised in Montana, Beers has grown up with three sisters and is a junior at the University of Montana majoring in communications.
Humor has always been a significant part of Beers’ life, whether it was his dad telling him a dirty joke in the hospital to take his mind off things or just his own tweaked way of looking at the world. While he professes—as cheesy as it sounds—that laughter has always been the best medicine, Beers is quick to note the morphine was kind of fun too. At the age of 19 he first took the stage to do standup, and it was love at first laugh. Since then he’s spent a lot of time at open mics working on his material. Beers is not new to the competition circuit and is the reigning winner of an amateur contest at the Brickwall Comedy Club in Spokane, Washington.
Born and raised on the East Coast, Jeff Charlebois was the picture-perfect example of the all-around guy: high school star quarterback; tennis, basketball and golf player; swimmer. At the beginning of Charlebois’ junior year of high school, an automobile accident caused a broken neck and spinal cord injury; he returned to school using a wheelchair. He went on to attend Wright State University, where he received bachelor’s degrees in psychology and business, two subjects that provided plenty of fertile material for the mind of this aspiring comedy writer.
Although Charlebois’ formal career as a behind-thescenes joke-writer was short-lived, he transformed his writing ability into copywriting positions for national radio and magazines. But the comedy bug refused to leave, and before long he was spending his evenings honing his skills as a speaker and comedian.
Charlebois moved to Los Angeles to pursue his comedy and acting dreams. Since then he has become a scriptwriter and a contributing writer to many magazines, including ABILITY Magazine. He is currently writing a sitcom that takes place in a rehabilitation hospital, and once it’s completed he hopes to produce it and act in the production. Until that time, he will continue to tour the country as a comedian and motivational speaker.
NANCY BECKER KENNEDY
Injured in a diving accident at age 20, Nancy Becker Kennedy returned to college to complete a master’s degree in communications and became a nationally recognized expert on disability, featured in Ms. magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The New Republic. Along the way, she also became the first person with quadriplegia to star as a series regular both on daytime and on evening television, appearing for two and a half years on ABC’s General Hospital and also as Louie Anderson’s assistant on the CBS series The Louie Show. With performances like her hilarious one-woman show I Had to Break My Neck to Get Here, Kennedy has been likened to cartoonist John Callahan in ushering a new era of disability hip humor.
This multi-talented dynamo has been a news producer for public television, a published playwright and an award-winning writer and composer. A lifelong activist and member of ADAPT (American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today), a civil rights organization that promotes providing services in the community instead of forcing people with disabilities into nursing homes, Kennedy has been arrested more times than she can remember for acts of non-violent civil disobedience.
Kennedy speaks frequently on college campuses; having spent equal time in the worlds of arts and advocacy and possessing unusual candor, warmth and iconoclastic humor, she is uniquely qualified to help others bridge the discomfort that can exist between people who have disabilities and people who do not. When asked how she can answer intimate questions with so much ease, she replies, tongue-in-cheek, “The deeply seated answer is that I am unbelievably insensitive.”
At 13 years of age, Michael Lee was left totally blind when he was severely burned in an explosion and fire. After the accident, Lee experienced a temporary slump before emerging with amazing determination and a zest for life that is absolutely unstoppable. A native of California, Lee was, and still is, the all-American boy. Snow skiing, water skiing, surfing, bowling, beep baseball and golf are only some of the sports in which he participates. He is also a single parent, facing the challenges and enjoying the rewards of raising his young daughter, Robin, on his own.
Together with his faithful assistant Filbert, a trained guide dog, Lee has an incredible vision to share. He knows that you don’t have to see to believe—but you have to believe to see.
After exhausting all comedy venues and possibilities Arizona presented, she packed up and moved to Hollywood with nothing more than a U-Haul and a dream. For one month Merlina lived like a gypsy before being hired as a paid regular at the world-famous Comedy Store located on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Since then she has attracted scores of adoring fans at her shows throughout the Los Angeles area. She finds time for various cameos and supporting roles in independent films and still has dinner on the table for her goldfish promptly at 5:30 p.m.
This charming and disarming redhead hails from Phoenix, Arizona. Damienne Merlina has received high accolades and is the only female comedian to win the title of Funniest Person in the Valley at the renowned Tempe IMPROV.
After Reginald Pope, known as Reggie Blaze, was nearly burned to death in a car crash caused by a drunk driver, he found that laughter truly is the best medicine. He has performed at comedy clubs in and around Los Angeles and has been a background actor in movies, music videos, commercials and television shows such as ER and NYPD Blue.
Pope has spoken at several Los Angeles high schools and was recognized by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services for donating his time and talent to underprivileged kids at a youth comedy camp.
A Los Angeles native, he is continuing to work on his standup comedy and a book he hopes will resonate with people from all walks of life.
This multi-talented artist is an undeniable presence of grace on any stage. Rosi Reed’s an actor, vocalist, poet and comedian.
At 14, she survived a near-fatal car accident that caused a spinal cord injury and left her without the use of her legs. From this experience, she has become a powerful force of selfdetermination. Reed has guest-starred on FOX’s Ally McBeal, the WB’s The O’Keefes and ABC’s My Wife and Kids and has co-hosted The Carol and Marilyn Show. She has also appeared in the films Still Air and Tri-Destined Media’s Sweet Oranges, was featured in a network showcase for CBS, and garnered a national spot for Johnson & Johnson.
Reed has received accolades as a Media Access Comedy Competition finalist, BET Standup Comedy Showcase finalist and recipient of the coveted Janet Alhanti Acting Scholarship.
This bright spirit is not just another gifted artist— she is a presence!
Introducing the Hosts
For more than 20 years Fred Burns has been performing comedy around the world. A former general manager of the world-famous Comedy Store in La Jolla, California, Burns was the subject of Fred, a University of Southern California award-winning documentary that has made him somewhat of a cult hero in Europe, Japan and Africa. He continues to tour the world for screenings.
Burns was the $10,000 grand prize winner on ABC’s America’s Funniest People, and his credits include the role of street comic in the Farrelly Brothers’ movie Stuck On You.
At 3 feet 6 inches, Tanyalee Davis is the Ferrari of comedy—low to the ground and kind of racy. She started doing stand-up-on-a-chair in 1990 after a brief but disappointing NBA career. Today she has brought comedy to new heights and is known as the little lady with a lot of BIG laughs.
Davis was spotlighted on the premiere episode of Last Comic Standing 2, and is most recognized for her multiple appearances on the daytime talk show Maury. Davis worked on the Austin Powers 3: Goldmember movie teaser (a highlight of her career) as well as MTV Bash, FOX’s reality show 30 Seconds to Fame and the film For The Love of Money.