Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chuckling in the face of cancer: benefit is serious about laughter

By Meredith Deliso

Comedy benefits for the American Cancer Society are not novel, though a lot, Garland Harwood found, are geared toward the baby boomer demographic.

Harwood, a 28-year-old cancer survivor who lives in Ditmas Park, wanted to create a night specifically for the Brooklyn crowd.

“There weren’t as many people that were involved here as they were back in my hometown of Richmond, Va., when I was in high school,” said Harwood, who has been involved with ACS since being diagnosed with sarcoma cancer three years ago (watch a moving video documenting his illness, as well as engagement to his current wife, here). “Because central Brooklyn is such a transient culture – people are all from other places and they don’t necessarily think about, say, Park Slope as their home – something like a comedy event would be a much better fit for them to be involved.”

On June 18, Park Slope’s Southpaw will host the Comedy for Cancer benefit, a night of sketch, stand-up and improv featuring local comedians from MTV, The Upright Citizens Brigade, The People’s Improv Theater, College Humor and more.

Reaching out to acts in Brooklyn and the New York area, Harwood has assembled a line-up that includes sketch groups The Uncles, The Adam & Trevor Show, improv group Beyonce Knowledge, and stand up comedians Brett Anderson and Nick Cobb.

“Everybody was really excited about doing this,” says Harwood. “I didn’t get anybody that said no.”

Talking to some of the acts that confirmed led Harwood to Nick P. Ross, a Williamsburg-based comedian who himself is a cancer survivor, six months in remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Harwood checked out Ross’s one-man show, Highly Evolved Human, which pulls from his experiences with cancer, at Upright Citizen’s Brigade earlier this spring, in consideration of inviting him to be on board.

“It was just amazing. It’s hilarious. And I really identified with it,” says Harwood. “I e-mailed him that night. He confirmed the next day.”

Ross, a regular at UCB’s Harold Night as well as on the comedy Web sites Funny or Die and CollegeHumor, developed the show while getting treatment back home in Denver.

“Obviously this situation was so intense. A lot of what I was writing about were things I encountered maneuvering the world as this cancer patient,” says Ross, 27, who was diagnosed in the fall of 2007. “It’s not necessarily a ‘Why me?’ show, but this is a strange way to view the world through.”

Blending elements of storytelling, stand-up, and abstract theatre, Ross looks to try more material at the Southpaw benefit and hopes to expand the show into a run at UCB.

“I’m really excited I get a chance to do it at an event like the Southpaw event,” says Ross. “It’s so personal but also immensely relatable. The response I got after the first run of the show was the most heartfelt and earnest one I ever got from a comedy show.”

At the benefit, 80 percent of the proceeds from Comedy for Cancer will go to The American Cancer Society’s free programs for cancer patients and survivor services in Brooklyn, such as rides to and from treatment, something Harwood is himself is a grateful recipient of. While going for treatment every single day to St. Vincent’s on the Upper West Side, he would take the subway when he was up for it, but most often relied on cabs.

“[ACS] helped me pay for some of my transportation costs, which were astronomical,” says Harwood, who adds that while he had health insurance, not all cancer patients do. “That’s what this is for,” he says. ““I don’t have huge expectations that this event is going to raise thousands and thousands dollars, it’s just about getting younger folks involved.”

The Comedy for Cancer benefit is June 18 at Southpaw (125 Fifth Ave.) at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 the day of the show. The show is 18+. For more information, call 718--230-0236.

If you are unable to attend but still want to donate to the cause, go here.


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