Being born with cerebral palsy is a serious matter. That is, unless you’re talking to Chris Fonseca. If you ask him what his life has been like as someone who lives with cerebral palsy, you’ll probably end up laughing and then change your mind about the subject.
That’s because Fonseca is a “stand-up” comedian who actually has the nickname “Crazy Legs.” Fonseca is this month’s I Define Me award winner for his ability to take life’s hurdles in stride and keep a positive attitude no matter what happens.
We all have perceptions of people, places or things that are reinforced through experiences. Every once in a while, a person comes along that changes our perception of a certain group of people.
Fonseca is one of those kinds of people. He has been performing comedy routines in front of large audiences for three decades, and during each one he has been changing the perception of people with disabilities.
Killing It On Stage
Have you ever seen a comedian come out onto a stage in a wheelchair, using one leg to move himself into position?
There is a hushed quietness that spreads throughout the audience when Fonseca comes on stage. He fumbles with the microphone to get it into position. Who is this guy? the audience thinks. Is he going to be funny? He doesn’t look like a normal comedian…
Then he tells his first joke, and the audience erupts in laughter. Not because they have to, not because he’s in a wheelchair — they laugh because he’s funny. They laugh because they relate to the storied jokes he’s telling about marriage, life on the road, travels in Mexico and day-to-day frustration.
If people change their minds about people with disabilities, fine. Make no mistake, Fonseca is on stage to make people laugh. That’s his job. He’s one of those people who takes pleasure in making people laugh. And he’s good at it. You can’t be a successful comedian who travels the country for 30 years without being extremely good at your craft.
Changing Perceptions With a Smile
Growing up in rural Fort Morgan, Colorado might not be the most obvious upbringing for a stand-up comedian, but Fonseca is an expert at using his surroundings to his advantage. His routines often have bits that include references to stereotypical Colorado culture.
An academic scholarship from Dow Jones, one of four awarded in a minority journalist writing contest, gave Fonseca the opportunity to attend Trinidad State Junior College.
He excelled at the college, despite having to climb three flights of stairs in the building that housed the journalism department multiple times each day. Though ill-timed for his needs, the college finally installed an elevator after he graduated and named it the “Chris Fonseca Elevator.”
A Taste of Fame
It was in his sophomore year in college that he began trying his hand at comedy by performing at open mic nights all over Colorado. Then, after graduating from a successful college career, including a Collegiate Journalist of the Year Award, he began in earnest an attempt at becoming a professional comedian.
In 1987, Fonseca began touring as a comedian. In the early 90s, he began appearing on television. He performed on the Arsenio Hall Show and then had an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. He did a set at the Montreal International Comedy Festival and was part of the televised American Comedy Awards show.
Who can forget the show that was not only extremely popular in the US, but was a hit in dozens of countries worldwide, owing mostly to the fact that its female stars wore very small red bathing suits? That’s right—Fonseca also had a guest starring role on Baywatch. In the show, he rode a customized, motorized wheelchair on the beach and even had a scene on a boogie board in the ocean. Though he doesn’t swim, he was still up for the part.
In March of the year he appeared on Baywatch, he was involved in a car accident. His injuries required surgery and extended rehabilitation. Though he had worked his way out of a wheelchair in his youth, he was forced to hit the comedy road with a wheelchair once again.
A Contagious Sense of Humor
Fonseca says being in a wheelchair sometimes causes people to have another somewhat common misconception. Many people mistakenly believe cerebral palsy is a mental condition. If he’s in a wheelchair and can’t perfectly control his muscles, he must be a slow thinker or have something wrong with his brain. Imagine being at a restaurant and having a server ask your child what you would like to order. This has happened to Fonseca.
Of course, when you are part of the Fonseca family, making light of a situation pretty much comes with the territory. If a server at a restaurant thinks he can’t order for himself and asks one of his children what he wants, they just order the menu item they know he’ll hate most.
As if roles on Baywatch and meeting David Letterman weren’t enough, he’s been a part of benefits with former President Jimmy Carter and performed at the Kennedy Center for both Presidents Bush at the 15th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fonseca was given an award from the National Association for Speech Disorders and was an ambassador for World Cerebral Palsy Day in 2012.
Today, Fonseca is still performing his ever-changing comedy act, as well as writing a book and working on a CD. He is a father of 5 children and lives in his home state of Colorado.
We at Oshman & Mirisola are very proud to honor Chris Fonseca with the I Define Me award for bringing laughter to countless people for many years and for changing the perception of people with cerebral palsy toward a more truthful and positive light. If you know someone inspiring with cerebral palsy, let us know.