Comedians laugh it up for fundraiser

Besides their occupations, comedians Joey Wells and Willie Brown have a lot in common.

They're both established stand-ups who have enjoyed extensive exposure on television, in films and on the radio, both utilize their keen observational skills to their funniest, they're both single fathers of teenage sons, they've both had a taste of life in Los Angeles (although Brown has since moved to McDonough) and they can both conjure up comedy that's just as at home on a nightclub stage as it is on a church altar.

And when they perform for a two-night fundraiser hosted by Rockdale County-based Spring of Life Ministries in Olde Town Conyers, it will serve as a bit of a reunion for two good friends who have worked together many times.

"It will be a reunion," said Brown, whose act includes playing the straight man for a sassy ventriloquist's dummy named Woody. "Joey Wells is hilarious. We worked in L.A. together and I haven't seen him in a while. He might even stay at my house while he's here. It's a small network we work in."

Here's a brief look at the comedians headlining the Christian comedy concert at the Rockdale Auditorium on Dec. 28 and 29:

Willie Brown and Woody

A professional entertainer for 18 years, Brown's interest in ventriloquism sprung from a childhood fascination with magic.

"Ventriloquism is a similar art form to magic - the art of illusion," said Brown, who has made many appearances on BET's "ComicView" and Showtime's "Barbershop" in addition to more than 100 stage appearances a year. "I was always impressed by ventriloquists - I enjoyed Jay Johnson, who did 'Chuck and Bob' on 'Soap.' I already had the aptitude to do it because of all the time I spent practicing magic in front of the mirror."

But Brown is quick to point out that the best ventriloquist in the world can't change a laugh-deprived audience if the jokes and stories aren't amusing. Using Woody as the prism through which he delivers most of his best lines, Brown - who mixes numerous church and corporate engagements with club and theater gigs - waxes on a variety of contemporary topics, extracting the essence of comedy from everyday life.

"My jokes hit home," he said. "It's one thing to be perfect (with ventriloquism), but in clubs, you've still got to be funny.

"I tailor my act as much as I can to the venue I'm in. I know I can't be all things to all people. There's a certain vernacular you use in a church that makes it easier for you to communicate. People know where you're coming from, but you have to know your audience."

Brown said he moved from Los Angeles to the Atlanta area two years ago because he wanted his then-15-year-old son to have "a better home life." He added that since he found he was working just as much east of the Mississippi River as he was in California, he decided he could live wherever he wanted.

"I travel a lot and it seemed like I was coming from L.A. out this way a lot," he said. "I like it here. I don't have to punch a clock so I'm not sitting in traffic every day. If I can get to the airport, I'm O.K."

When asked what the crowds could expect when he and Woody hit the stage, Brown said, "People are gonna fall out. I've bee doing this for a long time and I'm pretty funny. You've already seen your share of bad ventriloquists. And we'll talk about real stuff, real subjects."

Joey Wells

Wells, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., and now lives in Inglewood (southwest of downtown Los Angeles), said many of his routines center on his relationship with his 18-year-old son, but he also takes a whimsical approach to the events of the day.

"Sometimes I tell stories about tragedies," said Wells, a professional comedian for eight years. "My aunt taught me that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. So anything that makes you cry, if you give it a little twist, you can see it in a different way and maybe laugh about it."

And as a sports fan, Wells can empathize with long-suffering Atlanta Falcons fans, who have endured an unpleasantly unforgettable year.

"Oh, I know all about that," Wells said. "I'm (an Oakland) Raiders fan. So not only do I like sports, I like pain. I know your pain, Falcons fans."

A regular on "The Tom Joyner Variety Show" and BETs "ComicView," Wells spends close to 200 nights a year onstage and has seen his share of star-struck kids come and go from the mean streets of Hollywood, Burbank and Studio City.

"Everyone comes (to Los Angeles) to follow their dreams," he mused. "The 'I'm Gonna Make It' bus comes into downtown every day. What you don't see, however, is the 75 people who are getting on the 'I'm Getting The Heck Outta Here' bus at the same time."

A graduate of San Jose State University with a degree in advertising, Wells gave up a secure community service job ("With benefits," he said) to give standup comedy his undivided attention, and while there have been some lean times, he's pleased with the decisions he's made.

"I wouldn't change anything," he said. "But my credit is all tore up. I used to be responsible. I used to have good credit. Now I don't have none of that. My fraternity brothers are amazed because I was always the one who was telling them to be conservative and how to invest their money.

"But I wouldn't change it for anything. One of the things that kept me going in tough times was knowing that my son was aware that his dad had followed his dreams - that I went for it and followed my heart. I hope he'll be thinking that, 'If Dad can do it, I can do it.' Whatever it is he wants to do."

When asked what audiences in Conyers could look forward to, Wells said, "I'm going to give them a little bit of me. Onstage, it's all me. You'll be leaving going, "That's exactly how I feel. I'll leave some of me on that stage."

For more information on Willie Brown and Woody, visit www.cleancomedyclinic.com or www.williebrownandwoody.com. For additional information on Joey Wells, visit www.myspace.com/joeywells5.

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Christian Comedy Fundraiser, starring Willie Brown and Woody and Joey Wells, presented by Spring of Life Ministries

When: 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 28 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29

Where: Rockdale Auditorium, 903 Main St. in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Conyers LifeWay Christian Store in the Conyers Crossroads Shopping Center, at Called to Conquer in the Mall at Stonecrest, or by phone at 678-413-2921.