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Comedian Kathy Buckley Speaks Out on Life and Laughter

by Rachel L. Miller

Some might say that comedian, Kathy Buckley, has been cursed.

Since birth Buckley has been hearing-impaired. As a child, she was misdiagnosed and labeled as retarded. She was sexually abused and contemplated suicide throughout her teens. Then she was run over by a Jeep while sunbathing on a beach, which resulted in broken bones and intermitted paralysis in her legs (not to mention being pronounced dead by attending paramedics). And after five years of recovery, once she could walk again, she discovered she had ovarian cancer.

Yep. Some might say Kathy Buckley has been cursed. But she says she feels completely blessed.

"The best gift given to me was my hearing loss. God gave me this gift so I don't have to listen to half of the bullshit," Buckley said.

Did we mention she's a comedian?

The 48-year-old ("But I feel like I'm two-and-a-half. Where the hell did I put my pacifier?") didn't always want to do comedy. She never considered it as an option due to her speech impediment.

"I spent thirteen years with some of the top speech therapists so I could talk so people could understand me — and now they all think I'm from New York," she said.

Fate took a hand and she was dared by friends to enter a stand-up contest for charity — and without any stage experience, Buckley stepped up to the challenge.

"I had no idea what I was doing, I was an absolute nervous wreck. My biggest fear was not hearing them call me to the stage," the tall brunette remembers. "But knowing that I was getting up on that stage for the kids erased all of my fears."

She took first place that night and placed fourth in the entire "Stand Up Comics Take a Stand" contest, which raised money for children with cerebral palsy. "I got money for the kids and a career for me," she says, laughing. "Two birds with one stone."

"Hear This!" blends stand-up comedy and motivational speaking.

She hasn't stopped laughing, and making others laugh, since. She's written a book "If You Could Hear What I See", starred in a video "Hear This!" and is a five-time American Comedy Award nominee as Best Stand-Up Female Comedian.

She's also played major comedy venues like Carolines in New York City, Catch a Rising Star of Las Vegas, Reno, The Improv in West Hollywood, The Ice House of Pasadena, The Comedy Store in Hollywood, The Laugh Factory of Hollywood. But wait, there's more! She received Destination Reviews for her autobiographical play "Don't Buck With Me" which was performed in New York City and Los Angeles. And she stars in a PBS documentary, which first aired in August 2001 and will run again in March.

Basing her stand-up routine on her hearing-impairment and other life experiences, she creates a positive, but funny atmosphere. She tells the audience she hasn't gone on a date in years, but says, "I don't know if it's because I didn't hear the phone ring or what."

But stand-up isn't her only calling — she discovered a gift for motivational speaking accidentally, when she was hired to do a workshop for people with disabilities.

"They gave me this book and wanted me to teach it to people in the audience. The book was complicated, full of pie charts and everything. I can't even read a 12-page comic book," she adds. " I look at the audience and think, 'I know what it's like to not have a job, to be on welfare, to have no self-esteem because society has placed labels on me.' I started talking about me."

Since then, Kathy Buckley has traveled around the nation, speaking to teens, adults and seniors, and in Anthony Robbins' Life Mastery Classes, spreading a message of positivitism.

But she keeps her seminars real, not backing down from tough issues, including the obstacles she's tackled. At one emotional point in her seminar, she traipses back and forth along the large stage, naming off things that have happened to her, including receiving ridicule as a child because of her perceived differences.

After a bout with meningitis in her early childhood, Buckley's parents were told that she wouldn't grow to be more than 5'2" tall. Then, in second grade, Buckley was placed in a school for slow and physically impaired children in second grade. It took school adminstrators, psychologists and audiologists nearly a year to discover it was her hearing loss, not lack of mental acuity that was impeding her speech. "And they called me slow," Buckley jokes.

"All I wanted was acceptance (as a child)," she admits. "I stole money, I stole candy, I stole things because I wanted the other kids to like me. I just wanted to feel accepted. I would be handing out things to people saying, 'Please like me, be my friend.'"

But she still found herself being labeled, being called "too tall," "retarded," "flat-chested" and a host of other things.

"I have no patience for stupidity. I believe if you need to put someone down, you have an insecurity," Buckley said. She's the first one to admit that labels can be painful to people.

"That phrase, 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me' — it's a crock. We hear those words, internalize them, analyze them. I don't want people to go through pain that's unnecessary, I want people to stop the self-abuse. I want people to leave after hearing me speak, thinking 'I'm OK.'"

It took the near-fatal Jeep accident in 1974 for Buckley to start thinking positive thoughts about herself. Although the Jeep ran her over, resulting in intermitted paralysis for years, she lights up when she speaks about that fateful day.

"It was absolutely incredible, a blessing, a gift, the ultimate reason for being," she recalls. "I spent the first 20 years of my life looking for love, warmth and acceptance. Once I died, I got a love that was out of this world. I got the gift of choice — to stay there or go back to my life. There's something about the right to choose — the great thing about choice is that it's unlimited."

"Life is quite simple, I learned," she continues. "It was me who was making it so much more difficult. I could choose to be happy or sad. And happy seems to bring more elements to my life."

When Buckley speaks, whether to a crowd of 1,000 or on a one-on-one basis, her zest for life is evident. She's animated, laughing, but always graceful - a powerhouse of positive thought.

"I live life for each day, each moment. I love talking to people every day. If you don't want to talk to me, that's your choice, but I'm going to party it up," Buckley said.

As an example, she tells a story about an encounter at the airport. "I was going through security, and the guards are standing there, so serious," she begins. "One asks me if I have anything on under my sweatsuit that isn't supposed to be there. And I said, 'I don't even have the stuff that is supposed to be there.' They laughed, but said, 'This is serious stuff.' I said, 'I am serious!'"

Buckley's motto, "live life to the max," applies in many forms to her everyday life. Whether it's resting on a blanket and staring at the moon with her godchild or watching the leaves of an avocado tree dance outside her window, Buckley loves to savor the everyday, simple things that so many of us take for granted.

"It's easy to get caught up in raising a family, paying the mortgage," she admits. "You just can't take things for granted. How many people are making love and are thinking about their work place? You've gotta' live in the moment."

Buckley believes women "are the most incredible species," but "are such a pain sometimes. We're always trying to fix ourselves. We aren't broken. We're comparing ourselves to things that don't really exist. Barbie and Pamela Anderson are not normal."

But just because she lives in the moment doesn't mean she's lacking a plan for the future. She hopes to be on a TV series where she can touch people on a broader scale without having to leave her home in California. ("All the traveling, living on planes and out of hotels, takes its toll on your body," she explains. "I once was in 10 states in nine days...that's just crazy.")

And if there's one comedian who has demonstrated mass appeal, it's Buckley. Kids love her, but she's also someone to whom teens, adults and seniors can all relate.

"When I was doing my one-woman show in L.A., I saw this 5-year-old girl in the audience. On the other side of the room, was a man who had to be 90-something. I was amazed at what a wide appeal my show had." She pauses, then adds, "But I was really impressed that neither one of them fell asleep. Two points for me!"

She's planned a ten-day break from work this month — a much-deserved trip to Fiji, where she won't have to worry about things like phones, televisions or battling the L.A. traffic in her Jeep.

Yes, you read correctly. Buckley is the owner of a Jeep Cherokee.

"If I'm going to be around a Jeep," she says. "I'm going to be inside of it, not under it."