After hearing about stand-up comedian’s, Steve Mazan’s, story of full-filling his lifetime dream of getting on The Late Show with David Letterman after being diagnosed with cancer, we seized the chance to talk to him more. Whoever said there are no positives about cancer was obviously not dreaming large enough!
1. Tell us a bit about you. What was life like before cancer?
My name is Steve Mazan and I’m a full time stand-up comedian. I travel the country and the world making strangers laugh. I was born in Chicago, started comedy in San Francisco, and live in Los Angeles. I was doing comedy for 6 years when i got diagnosed with cancer in 2006. I had cancer in my intestines that was removed through surgery. Unfortunately the cancer had already spread tumors to my liver. There is no cure or treatment for those tumors at this time, and upon diagnosis I was given a worst-case scenario of five years to live. That was 6 years ago.
2. What was your first reaction upon hearing you were diagnosed with cancer?
I felt like I was living a dream. I can’t even say nightmare, because it didn’t feel awful at first. Just not real. It felt surreal.
The reality crept up on me, and my wife after a bit of time. We’d just have moments where the weight of it all hit us. Then there was a lot of crying and being scared. But surprisingly soon, maybe a couple weeks later, the magic of life happened: It kept going on. Everything around me kept going forward. As bad as I felt, life went on.
That allowed me to move on too. I started to look at what I wanted to make sure happened if that that 5 year worst case scenario was true. For me it was making sure my life long goal of performing on David Letterman’s show came true.
3. What was that push that led you to pursue your dream of performing comedy on the Late Show with David Letterman?
David Letterman had been a hero of mine since I was kid and was introduced to his old NBC show. He had the best comics on his show. He made me want to be a comic and perform on his show.
When Dave moved to CBS and an earlier timeslot, his show replaced Johnny Carson as the pinnacle of stand-up comedy on TV. Only the best of the best get to be on his show.
4. How did it feel when you finally made it on the show?
Undescribable. Most of the time life does not measure up to your dreams. And when dreams come true, they are seldom as good as you imagined them. Getting on Letterman blew every expectation I had out of the water. It was even better than I had dreamed.
5. How have the public, and other cancer patients, reacted to your documentary film “Dying to do Letterman“?
It’s strange when someone learns you have cancer. A lot of people don’t know how to act. i don’t think there is any right way. It’s natural to feel sorry for someone and at the same time most patients don’t want pity. Both are natural feelings.
Plus, being in the entertainment industry I was actually told not to share my diagnosis because people might not want to invest money and time on someone who might not be around long-term. Again, all understandable at some level, but definitely fear based.
But the project of “Dying to Do Letetrman” has been received by cancer patients and non-patients just as well. We first screened the movie for a cancer group and got an incredible response. But we were even more surprised that that reaction was replicated from a general audience soon after.
6. Do you use cancer as a subject in your routines? If so, how do you approach it and what are the no-nos for joking about cancer?
I actually don’t joke too much about cancer in my act. Most people coming to see me don’t know about my diagnosis. Sharing that with them onstage would change their natural reaction to my act. I’d be worried that I’d be getting sympathy laughs.
However if I’m doing a show for people who have seen my movie or know my diagnosis (like a cancer group or benefit) I do some relatively dark material about it. Cancer groups love it because they have learned to survive by laughing at everything. It’s usually people who aren’t affected by cancer personally that take any offense.
7. Share with us one of your most popular cancer jokes:
Me and my wife’s favorite is “I used to think I never wanted to get married. I could never imagine spending my whole life with just one person…but if that’s only a couple more years…”
8. Have you completed all the items on your list? Are there other dreams you’re currently pursuing that you’d like to share?
I completed my biggest goal.Letterman. I still want to have kids. And now I want a billion people to see our documentary “Dying To Do Letterman.” Every person who has seen it has said they’ve been inspired to chase their own dreams harder. I think the world would be better if more people did that. So I’d like to help.
9. What do you recommend for others coping with cancer?
It’s not how much time you have, it’s what you do with it.
10. And finally, would you consider perfoming in Lebanon, or somewhere in the Middle East?
YES!!! I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan and would love to add Lebanon to the resume!
Thank you Steve for taking the time to chat with us. Keep fulfilling your dreams and inspiring others as you have us. We really hope you get a chance to perform in Lebanon too. I think you’ll have some new fans here very soon 🙂
PS: We absolutely love this album of “Dying to..” tags inspired by the film.