Chris Fonseca hoists himself out of a wheelchair and struggles with a walker to reach the stage.
Squirming into a seat in the corner of Funny Business Comedy Club, Fonseca lowers the microphone and motions for the music to stop.
These few minutes are always the hardest for him. That’s when the crowd first hears his slurred speech – and they realize this man, who moves like a wobbly boxer, is the main act.
In the United States, 500,000 children and adults have cerebral palsy. One — Fonseca – is a nightclub comic.
“I’m handicapped, and I’m Mexican,” he tells the audience. “If I was a woman, I could have any government job I want.”
The line gets a big laugh. Fonseca responds with a huge smile.
For 11 years, the Colorado Springs resident has performed in clubs like this with two-drink minimums and disbelieving crowds.
“Sometimes they laugh at first just because they’re so uncomfortable,” Fonseca says before the show.
“Other audiences are real hesitant to laugh because they don’t know what’s going on exactly. Some people think I’m faking it.”
Regardless, Fonseca’s comedy maintains an edge as sharp as a steak knife. Although he’s performed on Jerry Lewis’ telethon three times, he writes raunchy material suited for clubs and cable TV.
He’s the only comic able to mock Bob Dole’s disability without shame. After all, how politically incorrect is it when virtually every routine reverts back to making fun of yourself?
As his upper body jerks on stage, Fonseca cracks that he got this way from “a wicked game of twister.”
“Occasionally, a non-disabled person tells me, `You shouldn’t talk like that,’ ” he says. “I explain to them that talking about yourself is part of the basics of comedy.”
Fonseca, 32, got his start in show business almost by accident. A member of student government at a small Colorado college, he agreed to perform at the school’s informal talent show.
“We were having trouble getting people to enter,” Fonseca says. “I thought, `I’ll make a fool of myself and that’ll let people loosen up.’ I wound up finishing third.”
While climbing the club ranks since then, Fonseca has made nearly two dozen TV appearances.
Two years ago, he landed a nationally televised gig on the American Comedy Awards. That led to a part on – no joke! – “Baywatch,” where he played a protester who handcuffs himself to Pamela Anderson Lee and objects to the beach’s lack of wheelchair access.
In real life, Fonseca faces what he describes as “ignorant people” who equate his speech impediment and awkward movement with stupidity.
The day after his appearance a few years ago on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” he says, a flight attendant spoke to him like he was a child when she mistakenly thought a plane ticket was falling out of his pocket.
And despite having established himself as a comic, Fonseca still runs into club owners skittish about hiring him.
In Madison, Funny Business owner Victor Villacrez brought Fonseca back here after a successful stint last fall. Fonseca will perform four more shows in Funny Business, 118 State St., at 8 and 10:30 p.m. today and Saturday.
“When it comes to humor,” Villacrez says, “he’s not handicapped.”
Fonseca’s material often ventures away from disabilities. His topics range from troubled relationships – he’s divorced and has a 2-year-old daughter – to current events.
“I don’t think the idea of a handicapped person having sex or enjoying sex ever really crosses people’s minds,” Fonseca says. “When they hear me talking about it, maybe it does narrow the gap – `Hey, he’s one of us, not some alien.’ ”
On Thursday, Fonseca receives thunderous applause when he finishes his set.
His opening act, Chris Speyrer, then helps him into his wheelchair and positions him near the exit. That’s where Fonseca sells T-shirts featuring a caricature of him and highlighting his nickname Crazy Legs.
A long line of patrons stops to compliment him on the show. Away from Fonseca, one young man marvels that “a guy like that could make me laugh so much.”
Afterward, Fonseca is low-key about the crowd’s emotional response.
“I’m not a motivational speaker, I’m a comedian,” he says. “If someone comes to my show and feels inspired by that, so be it. But I’m just up there to entertain. Anything other than that is a bonus.”