Suddenly, Cancer is the funniest joke in NYC

So who says you can’t laugh at Cancer?

This past week, the audio recording of Tig Notaro’s comedy stand-up routine about her breast cancer diagnosis last summer turned up on Louis CK’s site for a $5 download. Here’s an excerpt of Louis’ reaction:

The show was an amazing example of what comedy can be. A way to visit your worst fears and laugh at them. Tig took us to a scary place and made us laugh there. Not by distracting us from the terror but by looking right at it and just turning to us and saying “wow. Right?”. She proved that everything is funny. And has to be. And she could only do this by giving us her own death as an example. So generous.

Now New York City is about to turn Cancer into the funniest joke in town. First off-Broadway and then Columbia University will celebrate the art of laughing at cancer.

On October 19, the 2011 Canadian Comedy Award winner for Best One Person Show headlines the prestigious United Solo Theatre Festival just off-Broadway. Daniel Stolfi turns his tussle with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 25 into a tour de force of dramatizations, characterizations, humiliations and exhilarations. He takes on stigma, icons like Lance Armstrong, and confronts the assault on his hair, his sex drive and his machismo with flair and flamboyance that leaves you belly aching and heart aching. Then he dances, like no Cancer can dance at all.

At Columbia University on November 7, Will Reiser of last year’s feature film “50/50” delivers a speech at the prestigious Narrative Medicine program. Doctors studying the art of narrative competency will be listening to this career funny man describe how he turned his personal cancer journey into one laugh track after another in the hit film starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen.

Imagine. A roomful of doctors, who are studying serious literature to learn how to better understand patient stories to improve their practice, are going to be listening a young hellcat storyteller. Now this is progress! Its recognition that valid story comes in many forms and that comedy holds equal weight in the battle of creative expression.

It’s also recognition that comedy makes a seemingly tough subject like cancer digestible by the public. The TV series “The Big C” starring Laura Linney, is about a suburban mother, diagnosed with melanoma cancer, who tries to find the humour in the disease. According to WashingtonPost critic Hank Stuever: “It’s for people who are repelled by the warm-fuzzy, disease-o’-the-week dramas of cable television.” And the darkside series “Breaking Bad” turns a high school teacher’s cancer diagnosis into a life of crime that takes many funny and bizarre twists.

Laughing at cancer is no longer taboo. If you’re in New York City this week, take in “Cancer Can’t Dance Like This” and get your belly aching.

  • More Stories That Can Make You Laugh, and maybe cry a little too