Five years ago, Boyd Houser was a non-verbal 2-year-old diagnosed with autism. Today, while still autistic, Boyd is speaking and writing. And while it's a stretch to say that laughter has played the key role in his development, his father, Larry Houser, can't be blamed for making a connection.
His ability to "learn to read and write is a result of what we've helped accomplish," says the elder Houser, an owner of Bourbon Street and a founder of Fullerton Cares, a Fullerton-based non-profit foundation devoted to raising money and awareness about autism, which is hosting its fifth comedy night tonight, at the Fox Fullerton Theatre. This is the third year the event, which has raised some $75,000 for the 12 elementary and junior high schools that comprise the Fullerton School District, has been held at the stately 1925 movie palace, which closed in 1987, was saved from the wrecking ball in 2004, and is currently in the midst of being restored under the auspices of the grassroots organization the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation.
And while the Fox is still some years away from being fully restored, its viability as a meeting point for the community (city permits allow for a couple of one-night galas to be held there each year) is borne out not only by the success of those events, which regularly sell out, but also in the stories of people like Boyd Houser.
To date, the majority of the funds raised by events has been given to the Fullerton School District to buy high-tech equipment such as iMacs. iPads, interactive light boards and headphones for every autism classroom in the district.
"Technology is the game changer for these kids," he says. "And here's the cool thing about this event. Boyd was the inspiration for the first one and the first, second and third, he was non-verbal. But he started speaking after the third one and this year he'll be on stage speaking. And I think the money we've given the school district has definitely played a part in that."
While the reason for the show is to raise money for, and awareness of, autism, the draw is the comedians. This year, the headliner is Tom Green, a writer and performer who has also benefited greatly from technology. After landing a guest hosting gig on the Late Show With David Letterman in 2003, he hosted an internet talk show, one of the first live streaming shows on the Interwebz, from 2005-2010.from his living room, and a live weekly TV show on the Mark Cuban/Ryan Seacrest cable network AXS TV from October, 2013 to November, 2014. In 2010, he began performing stand-up comedy. In addition to tonight's Fox Fullerton gig, Green's eccentric (to say the least) comedy will be on display at the Beach Goth at the Observatory in Santa Ana this weekend.
Joining Green on stage is a roster of comics that Nick Munoz, a longtime employee at the Fox, solicited along with considerable assistance along with two professional comedians who have appeared at previous Fullerton Cares comedy nights, George Perez and Brad Williams. Perez is performing once again this year, along with Supernaked, Sam Tripoli, Keith Reza, Kate Quigley and Joshua Meyrowitz. While the comics get paid, they work at a greatly discounted rate, Houser said, which only makes sense, since this is one case where laughs are truly the means to an end.
The event is technically sold-out, but Houser says that anyone who shows up at the last minute and wants to get in, will be accommodated–for some cold, hard cash, of course.
Comedy Show for Autism, Fox Fullerton, 500 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 713-7512. Tickets start at $27. Craft beer and wine reception at 5 p.m. show begins at 7 p.m. www.facebook.com/FullertonCaresAutismFoundation; www.fullertoncares.com.