Debra Faulk's teenage years weren't pretty.
She freely admits that while growing up in Lexington, she was a recalcitrant runaway from ages 12 to 16. Her delinquency landed her in the juvenile justice system, and she became a ward of the state.
"I wanted to be grown," Faulk said. "I would run away and go to block parties where I would do comedy."
The lifestyle included smoking, drugs and older men.
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"I would lie and tell them I was 21," she said. "I was a hot mess. But that was the life I wanted. I didn't want to be responsible."
That was more than 30 years ago. Now, Faulk is using her talent as a comedian to warn young people about the negative path she chose, and how it was corrected by the love of family and friends who cared for her during those difficult times.
Faulk is scheduled to perform a one-woman show this weekend that also is her thesis for a master's degree in fine arts.
"I know what children are capable of," she said. "To have people write them off because of bad decisions is unacceptable to me. What if my parents had written me off?"
When she was 12, responsibility meant going to school and helping her parents care for one of her older sisters who is intellectually disabled, she said.
"My mother called her special," Faulk said, "and said we are lucky to have her in the family."
But Faulk wanted more. "I just knew I was destined to be a superstar, and I knew I wouldn't do it here."
At 16, she took some money that had been set aside for another older sister's college tuition and ran away to Hollywood, where she found the beginnings of her professional career as a comedian and emcee.
But she also found the world of drugs.
Fortunately, when she was 17, once her status as a runaway was discovered, she was sent back to her parents in Lexington. Although she feared serious repercussion for her theft and drug abuse, she was welcomed home with a party thrown by the sister she had wronged.
"All I had was a cardboard box and a bunny rabbit," Faulk said. "But they showed me love and support.
"I am better, and I'm grateful enough to show people the tools that I used," she said. "There might be something in my tool box that they can relate to. That is my message."
Eventually, she earned a bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Kentucky, and she has been a stand-up comedian for decades, performing at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, the Uptown Comedy Club in Atlanta, the Boston Comedy Club and Live at the Apollo in New York.
She also has practiced that love she was shown during her early years by volunteering with youth and with other charities.
Faulk's one woman show is called Bag of Bits, and it is about putting a lot of pieces together to form a better quality of life. In May, she'll present the show as her master's thesis at California State University, Los Angeles.
During her Lexington performance, she'll gather feedback on what she should correct for her master's thesis performance. The audience will be given a survey to complete.
"I came back to UK theater because this is where I got my love and my support from three professors," she said.
Faulk's stage name is DD Rainbow. The first part of the name was created because she doesn't drink and is, therefore, the designated driver. The last part came from friends at a beauty salon who thought it felt right.
"If you are struggling with a family member you don't know how to talk to or you have one that is in and out of jail, let me show you what family can do," she said. "I want to show people that you can have tough love without writing people off. And I do that with comedy.
"There is healing power in comedy," she said. "Comedy comes from pain."
IF YOU GO
Bag of Bits, a one-woman show featuring comedian DD Rainbow
When: 5 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Lucille C. Little Black Box Theatre, 102 Fine Arts Building, University of Kentucky campus.
Information: Call (859) 257- 3297.