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A Lap on the Laugh Track 

Talking shop with funnyman Chris Fonseca

I'm handicapped and I'm Mexican, but if I was also a woman I could get any government job I wanted," drawls comedian and sometimes-actor Chris Fonseca. The crowd howls and Fonseca can't help but let out his own chuckle, throwing his head back in his wheelchair before he moves on to politics.

"I don't care what you think of former President Clinton, in the history of the presidency, he ended up right where he should've been -- with a bush on either side of him."

Born with cerebral palsy during a difficult birth that took his mother's life, the future comedian Fonseca was adopted by his aunt and uncle and grew up in Fort Morgan, Colorado where he dreamed of becoming a disc jockey. Because of the speech impediment that resulted from his cerebral palsy, Fonseca knew realistically that his chances of making it onto the air were slim. So when he went to college at the University of Northern Colorado, he decided instead to become a journalist.

Always a clown, Fonseca took to writing humorous columns for the school paper. Then, during his senior year, a friend dared him to take his material on stage at a comedy club in Denver. Since that day 17 years ago, Fonseca has been making his living exclusively as a comedian.

With a joke-based act that draws on the raunchy candor of George Carlin and Richard Pryor and the clever insights of Stephen Wright, Fonseca has found his own niche in the comedy market and has made appearances on David Letterman and Baywatch -- yes, Baywatch. He recently moved back to Colorado Springs (he used to live here and performed frequently at Jeff Valdez's now defunct Comedy Corner) and will be appearing at Loonees Comedy Corner for Cinco de Mayo. The performance will be taped for his next CD, Daddy, Where Do Jokes Come From?

Indy: So you got out of college and immediately started making a living as a comedian?

CF: Yeah. It was cool. And it was weird because I was definitely afraid of being on stage. But you'd be amazed at how much courage there is in a six-pack. The audience at first didn't know what to make of it -- if I was faking, or if someone was putting me up there to make fun of me. But when they realized, Hey, this guy actually has jokes, it was great. Indy: What was some of your original material based on?

CF: I talked about being handicapped. For example I had a joke that went: "I'm glad I was born Mexican because if I was born Chinese I would've starved to death with chopsticks." And in the mid-'80s when Michael Jackson was huge, I had a joke that went: "If Michael Jackson was handicapped, he couldn't even beat it."

Indy: Do you write all your own material?

CF: I write about 90 percent of my own material.

Indy: How much does being Latino figure into your material?

CF: To be honest, my heritage hasn't played that big of a role in my act. I have a couple jokes. My opinion is that as long as you can say something new about it it's fine. But I couldn't go up there and do the old Mexican tortilla jokes. I'm also friends with George Lopez and will hopefully end up writing for the George Lopez show if it makes it. We need to get past the stereotypes, but there's a lot of stuff there that just hasn't been touched on.

Indy: What about being an actor on the show?

CF: My previous acting experience was on an episode of Baywatch that was written around me. Baywatch being what it is, it was a fun experience (laughter). I actually got to handcuff myself to Pamela Anderson! But I've also turned down a lot of the stereotypical shows like "Touched by an Angel." They wanted me to do this special handicapped episode. I'd rather be on the Drew Carey show drinking a bunch of beers (more laughter).

Indy: Are you trying to get on more shows?

CF: Yeah, but there's a lot of resistance because a lot of times they don't know what to do with me. Especially sit-coms. They don't want to offend people. Drew Carey and I know each other. I know Ray Romano. I know a lot of those guys and we've tried different things. There was even a possibility at one time of doing an episode of Friends where I would've dated Phoebe. The storyline was going to be that everyone else was freaking, but Phoebe didn't get it.

Indy: Why didn't that happen?

CF: It was just a matter of the networks saying that wasn't what they wanted to do. And they were kind of afraid of people's reactions. But once it's actually done, and it works, they're gonna be looking in every back alley in America for a guy in a wheelchair. Malcolm in the Middle has a kid in a wheelchair, and they handle it pretty well, so I'm hoping it will be open. I think I could hold my own as a main character or in an ensemble.

Indy: How has your material changed over the past 17 years?

CF: I hope it's gotten smarter by doing it, and by watching other people do it. I hope it's a lot more well crafted, and a lot more well thought out. What I'm after is that when someone sees me they say: Hey, he does something that not every Joe Blow can do.

-- nblack@csindy.com

  • Talking shop with funnyman Chris Fonseca

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