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The Baltimore Sun

Theater director Greg Hall wants everyone to know about autism.

Last year, Hall started the Baltimore Comedy Fest, a weekend of live performances by local comedians to raise money and awareness for autism. Hall's 13-year-old son, Zac, is autistic - which helped motivate Hall to found the event. Now in its second year, the festival returns to the Mobtown Theatre this weekend.

"I wanted to do something that would make a lot of noise and hopefully raise some good money that could help my son and children like him," Hall said.

Proceeds from the Mobtown Theatre show will benefit Pathfinders for Autism, a Towson-based nonprofit resource center for parents of autistic children. Local comedian and 98ROCK morning show host Mickey Cucchiella will also donate a portion of the proceeds from his show at the Baltimore Comedy Factory tonight.

Hall scheduled the fest at the end of March to raise awareness in April, which is Autism Awareness Month.

"Even if they don't come to the shows, they've read about it in the papers, or heard about us on the radio, or something," Hall said. "Everybody who becomes more aware of it is a key factor in helping understand it."

The roster of standup comedians includes Jared Stern, Kelly Tarranova, Doug Powell and Erin Jackson, the winner of the 2006 Baltimore's Funniest Person contest. Comedy troupes The Early Monday Morning Show and the Screaming Puppets will also perform.

The Early Monday Morning Show - of which Hall is a member - does more scripted comedy in the vein of Saturday Night Live, while the Screaming Puppets are more strictly improvisational, Hall said.

For the final performance Sunday, some of the comics will collaborate on a Whose Line Is It Anyway-style show - complete with a Drew Carey-like figure, Hall said.

"It just winds up being hysterical," Hall said. "It's a lot of fun for us to wrap up the weekend that way. Plus, it's a chance for the audience to see us in ways that we wouldn't be. It's not just a memorized act we're doing."

Comedian Mike Aronin opened last year's festival and will also be the first performer this year. Hall said Aronin - who has cerebral palsy - is one of the most amazing and funny people he's ever met.

"Just in casual conversation as a friend, this guy gets me crying," Hall said. "He doesn't let his CP get in his way at all. He's just amazing."

Aronin said last year was great, but hopes the festival can grow this year.

"I think this year is going to be better," Aronin said. "Hopefully not only people from last year will be there but they'll tell friends about their experience last year, and hopefully it will grow."

The Baltimore Comedy Fest comes to the Mobtown Theatre, 3600 Clipper Mill Road this weekend. Performances are 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. tomorrow; 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. Saturday; and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15. For more information, go to baltimorecomedyfest.com.


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