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Comedy for Preemies

Student organizes improv humor show to raise funds for a charity that helps premature babies in poor nations.

Paras Shah was born 3 months early.

The Mission Viejo resident spent 110 days in an incubator at a Boston hospital, fighing for his life.

Eighteen years later, Shah is using humor to help babies facing the same struggle.

At the Norman P. Murray Center on Monday night, he organized Embrace the Change, a student comedy show to raise money for a charity that builds devices to keep premature babies warm. 

Shah, who just graduated from Capistrano Valley High School, said he was inspired to help while watching an ABC 20/20 news segment called Be the Change: The Tiniest Survivors.

“It talked about this device out of Stanford University that was saving the lives of premature babies all around the world,” Shah said in an interview before the event. “And I decided that I had a very personal connection.”

Shah weighed 1 pound 6 ounces at birth.

“The doctors told my parents I had no chance at a ‘normal’ life,” he said in a press release. “Time and time again, I have proven the doctors wrong and accomplished what they said was impossible.”

Although legally blind, he was valedictorian at Capo Valley High and will double-major in political science and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley this fall.

Monday's show featured musical performances and a Comedy Sportz competition between Tesoro High School and Capo High.

Comedy Sportz is an improvisational program in which team members try to come up with hilarious scenes based on audience suggestions.

In one, performers had to mime the word "jumping," alternating between Tesoro and Capo team members. But each time they switched, the description grew more complex, evolving from run-of-the-mill ("jumping") to odd ("trying to fly") to truly out-there ("leaping up to hit two grandmas in the face").

In another scene, Capo players had four minutes to come up with a dramatic skit ... but all of it had to be spoken in Shakespearean English.

"All thy need is thy shining flower," said Elius Kim, 18, encouraging his friend to fight a duel for love using a plant as a weapon.

The skit also involved a wedding, a poisoned blossom and kicking a dead body in the butt, yet still somehow finished with a happy ending.

Ticket sales from the event will go to Embrace, a charity that sends portable infant warmers to developing nations. According to Embrace, a traditional hospital incubator costs about $20,000 whereas Embrace's device runs about $200.

Christina Chao, business development manager for Embrace, said it was "amazing" to see Shah take up their cause.

“A couple of folks have emailed us before, wanting to throw fundraisers, but nothing this elaborate,” said Chao, who showed event attendees how the portable incubator works. On a 20-minute charge, the blue-and-orange device can keep a baby at human body temperature for four to six hours.

Shah, who hopes to raise $2,500 for Embrace, said he was thankful for the help of Mission Viejo city staff, local businesses and students. 

“Every time that I’ve asked for a donation [for the show], the answer has never been 'No, we can’t, sorry,' ” Shah said.

Moral of story, he said: “If you have an idea and you are passionate about it, don’t just sit there. ... Share your message with the world. You can make a change. Every single one of us has the potential to change the world.”

Shripathi Kamath June 29, 2011 at 04:09 AM
Nice JC! Real nice.
John Crandall June 29, 2011 at 05:11 AM
Thanks man. Haven't been called JC since high school ... :-P


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