Ninety-seven-year-old Bessie Mae Berger was living in a car with her two sons six weeks ago when comedian Kevin Nealon encountered them at a Hollywood gas station. Nealon, who was on his way to perform at the Laugh Factory, bought a tank of gas for their 1973 Chevrolet Suburban before heading off to work.
Berger and sons Larry Wilkerson, 60, and Charlie Wilkerson, 62, had been parking nightly on Venice Boulevard after losing their home in Palm Springs and failing to find a place to stay in Northern California. They didn't want to be separated and were unable to find housing.
When they stopped at the comedy club later to thank Nealon, the comic brought club owner Jamie Masada outside to meet them.
Stunned that Berger was homeless, Masada treated the three to a pizza dinner and pledged to try to organize a benefit show for them.
At 8 p.m. Tuesday, Masada will deliver on that promise, staging two fundraisers to benefit the homeless at the Laugh Factory's locations in Hollywood and Long Beach.
The family's plight was detailed in The Times last month, prompting authorities from the city, county and state to step up efforts to assist the family. The Integrated Recovery Network, a nonprofit founded last year to provide emergency housing to the homeless, immediately offered them shelter.
Representatives from Integrated Recovery will be at both shows to collect the proceeds from the sale of tickets priced at $25 and $35, Masada said.
The Hollywood event will be hosted by KLOS-FM (95.5) personalities Mark and Brian. The Long Beach show will be emceed by the station's Uncle Joe Benson and Bob Buchmann.
Confirmed performers include Nealon, Tom Arnold and Paul Rodriguez, and several others are being lined up, Masada said. The comics will perform at both locations.
Various agencies are working to find additional benefits and permanent housing for Berger and her sons.
The Hollywood Laugh Factory is at 8001 Sunset Blvd. The Long Beach location is 151 S. Pine Ave.
Integrated Recovery is funded by Kaiser Permanente, the Corporation for Supportive Housing and private donations, according to Marsha Temple, the organization's executive director.