Show benefits Disability Rights Ohio

COLUMBIANA — British comedian John Cleese of Monty Python fame knew the power of humor and once quipped “a wonderful thing about true laughter is that it just destroys any kind of system of dividing people.”

If you ask Matt O’Nesti, Cleese was on to something. A stand-up comedian, O’Nesti has made a career out of making people laugh, but as a member of Disability Rights Ohio (DRO), he’s made advocacy his life’s work. On Saturday, O’Nesti’s passions will come together at Funny Farm Comedy Club at Riser Tavern on the Links in Columbiana for a fundraiser comedy show benefiting DRO.

The show is meant to raise funds as well as awareness for the organization — established to both protect, advocate the rights of people with disabilities — and bring people together with some good-old-fashioned comedic relief, beginning with the event’s name.

“Don’t Call It Standup: A Night of Comedy Benefitting Disability Rights Ohio” is tongue-and-cheek, the kind of satire that would make Cleese’s comedy troupe proud. Boardman-based O’Nesti, one of the night’s headliners, has spinal muscular atrophy type II and has been in a wheelchair since the age of 2. He’s been on the comedy circuit since he was a teenager.

“I’ve been doing stand-up since I was 15 years old, performing, writing and doing shows,” he said. “I’ve been a board member with Disability Rights Ohio for three years now. This is a great way to bring those two worlds together and a way to use comedy for good for once.”

In the summer of 2022, DRO held its first-ever “Don’t call it Stand-Up” fundraiser in downtown Columbus. The event was not held last year and, when planning to bring it back this year, The Funny Farm Columbiana at Risers Tavern on the Links was tabbed to host. O’Nesti said Dave Robich, owner of The Funny Farm Comedy Club has always done his best to make sure his comedy rooms are inclusive and accessible to all performers. It was no-brainer to approach Robich to host Saturday’s show.

“Dave is amazing, and this is his room,” O’Nesti said. “Him and I have had a pretty cool relationship for years and he said ‘absolutely’ when I came to him about using his room for this event. I can’t say enough about him or Risers for holding this year’s show.”

As far as the talent, O’Nesti will share the stage with Harrison Poole, Chevy Terril and GW Nell, showcasing comedians who just so happen to have disabilities.

“The first show, most of the comedians had a disability. This show, everybody either has a disability or in GW’s case, is the mother of an individual with a disability,” O’Nesti said. “We have full representation and a full lineup of disabled comedians. There are a lot disabled comedians around Ohio, doing a lot of cool stuff and this is another fun opportunity for people who sometimes don’t get an opportunity.”

And opportunity is what the DRO is all about.

“What we do is advocate and help others advocate for themselves,” O’Nesti said. “We are here to serve and make sure the members of the disabled community have accessibility, inclusivity and the things they not only need but are entitled to. We are present in all 88 counties in Ohio.”

According to the DRO, the mission of Disability Rights Ohio is to advocate for an equitable Ohio for people with disabilities, and connects and engages with our communities and supporters throughout the state with events like job fairs in Cleveland and Toledo, duck races along the Muskingum River and other events like the comedy fundraiser.

“Don’t Call It Standup” breaks down barriers while ODR builds better tomorrows.

“Through the lens of comedy, we want to put a spotlight on what the DRO does and what a great organization we are,” O’Nesti said. “We also want to have a good time on Saturday. We want everyone to come out, hang out and just have a really fun night and see some good comedy. It’s going to be a great show.”



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