Comedians with cancer: How to help them, and also help yourselves
Comedians perform at benefit shows on a regular basis (particularly in New York City and Los Angeles), lending their laugh-making skills to raise money for all sorts of causes -- from pet shelters to education to public service and health care. The benefits that hit home most for the comedy community, of course, are those hastily arranged to help pay the hospital bills for a stand-up comic who is suffering.
Two long-time stand-ups are currently battling for their lives against cancer.
Ron Shock, who began his comedy career relatively late at the age of 40 but did so in Houston where he was a fellow "Outlaw" with the late Bill Hicks, announced in December that at 69, he'd been diagnosed with the rare and aggressive urethral cancer. Shock since has moved to Las Vegas where he continues to undergo chemo and other treatments. You can donate directly to Ron Shock's Cancer Fund via PayPal here.
Shock is spending a good deal of his free time updating friends and fans via Facebook messages and YouTube videos. He has a series of videos called Cancer Chronicles in which he talks about how his health is and relates various stories. Here, Shock describes his final conversation with Bill Hicks on the day before Hicks died, and what happened the following day.
Yesterday, Shock said that this is his favorite of his comedy videos on YouTube. He tells the story about being caught in bed with the wife of a gun-toting hillbilly. There's more to it than that, but let him unfold the tale for you. Roll it!
Peggy Blair, wife of comedian Dennis Blair, sent out an email appeal last weekend, writing in part:
"As many of you know, Ron is one of the good guys. When Dennis had a career crisis years ago and was scrambling for a job, Ron got him booked into eleven comedy clubs without hesitation. Last night we heard a similar story from comic Quinn Dahle, and Nancy Ryan also had the same experience with Ron getting her work. Ron's generosity and goodness know no bounds. Please send him a check with a personal note, for they are living in a nightmare. Any amount will help, and the personal contact from his friends really will lift their spirits. Please forward this e-mail to everyone in your address book. You can also go to his web site and use Paypal. Also, if anyone is in the Las Vegas area and can give Rhonda a break by helping with her care giving for a few hours, that would be incredibly useful and appreciated as well."
John Fox, meanwhile, was known for his outrageous jokes and a reputation as "the Nick Nolte of comedy," and appeared on two of Rodney Dangerfield's HBO specials in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Here is one of his better-known bits, "Archibald Barisol."
Now 54, this is how Fox looked earlier this month.
With stage 4 colon cancer, Fox's doctors have told him at the beginning of March that he didn't have much time left.
To help other comedians avoid his fate, he has set up the John Fox Memorial Fund, whose mission is "to provide funding for cancer screening for working comedians without insurance. A working comedian is one who makes at least $10,000/year doing stand up. We will provide funding for colonoscopies, pap smears, mammograms and other routine cancer screening tests."
You can donate to the John Fox Memorial Fund here. Call (847) 287-1257 for more info.
Ron Reid, a longtime comedian and club manager turned agent, thinks it's that much more important for all comedians to find some sort of health-care coverage, even if it means leaving other things out of your daily budget. As Reid wrote:
"It is terribly sad that there is something called the "John Fox Memorial Fund." And it's wonderful that this has been created. But I think there's a disconnect in our culture about health care and health insurance. Yes, health care is expensive. So are lots of other things. Gas is $4+ a gallon fer chrissake. A glass of wine in an average restaurant is $9. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't get medical care if you need it. I have been in the comedy industry for literally a zillion years, and I have always budgeted for health care. You should do the same. If you want health insurance and can find a group to join, do it. If you can't find a group, there are individual policies available. Cost varies by state. If you are young, in most states, health insurance is pretty cheap (NY being an exception). If you are older, it is of course more. (My fiancee is paying $459/mo for a plan that has no prescription drug coverage. Yes, it is a burden. No, we do without other things before we would do without it). There are other options. Walk-in clinics. Join a community health-care organization. If you watch John's heart-rending video, that is his message."
If you have the ability to help out the Shocks or donate to the John Fox Memorial Fund, please do so.
And if you're a working comedian without health insurance, please rethink your lifestyle choices and make sure you're covered so you have access to the type of preventive care that keeps you healthy for a long and happy life.