Comedian Steve Rizzo had his audience laughing so hard some were in tears Wednesday at the third lecture in the Pillars of America Freedom series.
Rizzo used the stereotype of the cocky, mob-connected Italian guy from Brooklyn to season his presentation, as he riffed about the ability of humor to help people deal with the absurdities, serious issues and incomprehensibilities that life tosses our way.
Strutting across the stage at Centennial Hall, throwing in a ``Dance Fever'' movement of his left leg for emphasis, Rizzo showed his stuff -- the reason he's a hit at the Comedy Store, a Los Angeles club; the reason he's asked back to Evening at the Improv; the reason he's had one-man television specials.
Rizzo interspersed his presentation with stories about his boyhood in a large family and with impersonations ranging from Jerry Lewis to Elsie the-cow with flatulence, from his 5-year-old son imitating Jack Nicholson to the Cowardly Lion from ``The Wizard of Oz.''
One hilarious bit had to do with coming head-to-head with a difficult store clerk, Mart, putting one shoe to his ear, and doing an impromptu spy-with-a-phone-in-his-shoe Maxwell Smart routine -- about her.
The message was that our thoughts determine our feelings. Our feelings determine our actions. And our actions propel us to a positive outcome -- if, and only if, our thoughts are upbeat.
Rizzo's youthful dream was to become a teacher. His plans were halted in their tracks when he was 14 and a guidance counselor told him and his parents that he wasn't teacher material.
This bad advice kept him from fulfilling his potential for 20 years, he said. He cited actor/director/producer Sly Stallone as an example of someone who didn't let rejection shoulder him aside.
``Stallone dealt with rejection of his screenplay `Rocky' for five years,'' Rizzo said. ``And people were telling him he couldn't even talk! But his belief in what he wanted to do was so powerful that it overrode what everyone else said.''
Because Stallone believed in himself and maintained a sense of humor, he succeeded. His movie ``Rocky'' was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay.
``He succeeded because of his incredible, powerful, positive attitude,'' Rizzo said.
Rizzo recently wrote ``Becoming a Humor Being.'' He defined a humor being as our best self, our most resilient self -- the self that can bounce back from adversity, studying for five tests at once, long waits in traffic or unrewarding jobs. He counseled his audience to ``use humor to overcome obstacles'' in life.
``Laughter is God's way of saying, `I gave you this (difficulty); use it,''' he said. He advised the 125 students in the audience to ignore their mothers when they said, ``Be like your father; be miserable.''
Humor can boost your energy level and lead you to greater satisfaction among the inevitable roadblocks of life, Rizzo said.
He linked his message to that of the Glacier Valley Rotary's Pillars of America Freedom series by noting that ``your sense of humor can give you the freedom to enjoy yourself personally and professionally. Sometimes we get so caught up in making a living, or in learning, that we forget to have fun.''