In 2009, Larry Houser, the co-owner of Bourbon Street and one of the most popular bartenders in a downtown flush with them, didn't know squat about autism. He learned a lot in a hurry. His 6-year-old son, Boyd, was diagnosed with autism and Houser started a crash-course on learning as much as he could about the condition.
That led him to volunteering with national organizations like Autism Speaks but, he says, "I was bringing a lot to the table but realized that I wasn't seeing anything in my own community."
So, he launched Fullerton Cares, a grassroots non-profit that, in four years, has raised more than $60,00–most of it funneled into programs for autistic kids in elementary schools in Fullerton and neighboring cities. One of its biggest events is its annual comedy night which, for the second straight year, is being held in the historic Fox Fullerton Theatre.
Last year's event, headlined by Carlos Mencia, was sold-out and raised more than $18,000. This year's affair features Steve Trevino, Michael Malone, Jesus Trejo and Tommy Chun,
It's an interesting event not just because of the cause or the great reception, but that it showcases the synergy in a city often associated with bad press for its police force and its occasionally unruly downtown bar scene.
"Fullerton Cares is as grassroots as grassroots is and we really rely on other people in the city to help us out," Houser said.
Local establishments like Burger Parlor, the Cellar, Heroes and the Matador Cantina donate food and drink.The Fox Fullerton Foundation, another grassroots organization, chips in by offering its spectacular, if still very rough-around-the-edges venue. The Fox gets a small percentage of the proceeds but it benefits more from the exposure that it receives. The more people who actually walk into the Fox and see events like this, the more the message is reinforced that the Fox is still alive and well.
The venerable movie palace, built in 1925, hasn't shown a film inside the building since 1986, and more rats than people ventured inside for nearly 20 years. But it survived disuse and constant bulldozing threats and, in 2005, the Fox Foundation bought the building and has worked tirelessly to raise money to restore the landmark building.
The Fox is still several years and many millions of dollars from being fully restored. Fox Fullerton Foundation President Leland Wilson says "I think we're five years from opening with our full vision in place where we'll have regular events every month."
A handful of events have been held inside the building, but the comedy night is its largest. This year, some 600 people are expected to attend.
Wilson says people who attend it this year and next will be shocked at the difference.
"That's what I'm most excited about this year," he said. "People who see it this year and next year will see a completely different interior with vibrant colors inside and just a much nicer place."
Fox Theatre, 500 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton. Friday. Doors open at 6 p.m., comics start at 8 p.m. $32-$200 (pay for the better seats, it's for charity, people! http://www.tix.com/Event.asp?Event=677361.