RayDuckler: Laughing in the face of pain during one funny night
What’s so funny?
The little boy suffers from an illness that severely limits his mobility, and the comedian has multiple sclerosis, forcing him to use a cane so he can walk onstage to perform.
“I like comedy, and I believe comedy does serve as a cure,” said Dominic Salce, whose son Constantine has spinal muscular atrophy. “I believe if you’re in a bad place and you’re sick, you’re going to feel down in the dumps, but if you’re sick and you can laugh a little, it helps you out. There is some sort of electricity that goes off in your brain.”
Dominic, a corrections officer, lives in Hillsboro with his wife, Luciante, Constantine, 5, and two other children, Aurelia, 4, and Leander, 1.
Forever searching for a cure they believe is close by, Luciante and Dominic reached out to New England’s professional comedic community and found big hearts, along with funny jokes.
They found Jonathan Katz, who you may know from Comedy Central’s animated series, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, and
who suffers from MS. They also found Tony V, who once told jokes on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and HBO, and who appeared in the movie Celtic Pride, as well as two other well-known Boston-area comedians, Joe Matarese and Paul Nardizzi.
Then they found a place to hold the event, the Radisson at the Center of New Hampshire in Manchester, and an open date, Aug. 2.
In short, Dominic and Luciante form a fundraising team, hoping that the results will one day help Constantine rise from that wheelchair, head out the front door and run on his own.
And if not, life has been good thus far, all things considered. They want to keep it going.
“We live off hope,” Luciante said via email, “not necessarily that Constantine is cured, but that he remains healthy and is able to have a full, happy life.”
The comedians quickly climbed aboard, agreeing to perform in exchange for a hotel room at the Radisson.
“I like lending my name to good causes, and this seemed like one of them,” Katz said by phone from his home in Newton. “I said I’d be happy to do it.”
We visited the family three years ago, meeting a little boy with boundless energy, a nonstop smile and a love for singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Since then, Luciante has run a marathon in Constantine’s name, collecting sponsorship dollars, and the duo staged a benefit flag football tournament last year.
And now this.
Spinal muscular atrophy, which attacks the nerve cells that communicate with voluntary muscles, is cruel, and doctors said Constantine, diagnosed at six months, had maybe a year to live.
That prediction, it turned out, was a joke.
“Now he is 5½ years old and still a very happy, silly, wonderful little boy who isn’t inhibited by what he has because we have always made him feel like he can do anything, just a little bit differently,” Luciante wrote. “He has a wonderful life that he very much enjoys.”
Katz’s own battle against illness began about 17 years ago, while he was working with Ted Danson on the short-lived sitcom, Ink.
Curtain calls for the live audience followed each show, and Katz noticed that the routine was becoming a chore.
“My first symptom was numbness in certain parts of my face,” Katz recalled. “I noticed it started taking me a little longer to get out there and take that bow.”
His running joke today is that he suffers from two diseases: MS and comedy. “For MS, there are drugs you can take,” Katz says. “For comedy, there’s nothing.”
Katz admitted he’s a shameless name dropper who has a compulsion to tell jokes. He can’t help himself, and that becomes clear after just a few minutes on the phone with him. He mentions people he’s worked with, such as Adam Sandler and Danson, and his dry wit can easily catch you off guard.
He says he lives in the “rough” part of Newton, known for its affluence. He says those who break into homes there build a deck before leaving. He says he feels safer in New York City, where he grew up, than in Newton, “because I don’t know what crazy people look like in Newton. In N.Y., they’re very recognizable. They’d be wearing a down jacket today.”
And he says that during his appearance at the Radisson next month, he’ll show clips from some of his movies, including rarely seen shots of Katz in a romantic role with Jennifer Aniston.
Katz is in the clip.
Aniston cannot be seen.
Katz, though, insists she was there.
“They were comedies that never got released,” Katz says, never tipping his hand with a chuckle. “Oddly enough, you’re not going to see her, just me talking to her. I’m saying things to her like, ‘I really think we can make this work.’ ”
The Salce family is making it work, and the cast of characters are very real.
Constantine has the starring role.
He loves to sing, talk and drive his “zoomer,” the name given to his powered wheelchair. He’s entering first grade, with no restrictions on learning. His mind is sharp.
“People think he is older than he is because he is so smart and speaks so well,” Luciante said. “He never dwells on what he can’t do.”
Constantine tires easily. He can’t sit upright for long. The effects from a cold last a month. Pushing buttons is hard, so playing video games is out. He needs a device at night to assist his breathing, and a machine to help him cough.
Katz uses a cane and a motorized scooter to move around. He feels lucky, saying, “I was 49 years old when I was diagnosed with MS. I had 49 really healthy years.”
Constantine hasn’t been as lucky, but a cure, his parents believe, isn’t too far away.
Meanwhile, heard any good jokes lately?
“You fight it and that’s what we’re doing,” Dominic said. “That’s the idea behind this. Come in, have a good time, hear their silly observations on the world and forget about life for a while.”
To buy tickets and more, check out the website at cureitwithcomedynh.com