Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul
“How I found the funny side of cancer”
Off the back of his second battle with cancer, Aussie comedian Michael Shafar explains why there’s no better medicine (except maybe chemotherapy) than laughter
“It’s not good news” is one phrase you don’t want to hear from your doctor. In July last year I’d gone in for a routine CT scan. I’d been in remission from testicular cancer for almost two years, and my oncologist was pretty confident I’d been cured after six months of chemo and five rounds of surgery. But the scan showed a mass growing in my abdomen (which is where the cancer had spread to back in 2017) and so began another four months of chemo.
My treatment coincided with the second lockdown in Melbourne, so I guess I had a tougher time than most... Well, maybe not the parents who had to home-school their kids. Objectively, that’s worse. When you get cancer, your attitude is: “I’m going to beat this. I’m going to live through this.” But when you have to teach Jayden algebra, your attitude is: “Kill me now. Please end the suffering.”
If you’re going to get cancer, I think being a comedian helps. My view has always been that any topic can be funny. Plus, people say some hilarious things. One friend asked, “So, do you have to call up your previous sexual partners?” – which is obviously a ridiculous question. I’m not going to call up all the women
I’ve slept with and say, “Hi, you might want to get your balls checked.” Sure, it would just be the one phone call, but still, it would be pretty embarrassing.
While it’s not always easy to do, laughing at adversity makes hardship seem a lot less scary. People say to me, “It’s great to talk about this, because laughter is the best medicine.” Personally, I found chemotherapy to be more effective. But I agree with the sentiment.
As a Jewish person, I think resilience is ingrained in my culture. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and managed to get through five years in Auschwitz. I thought about him a lot going through my treatment, especially on the days when I couldn’t get out of bed or even open my eyes because I was so fatigued and nauseous. If he could get through something so much worse, surely I could get through this crap.
One night in hospital a nurse hooked me up to a pulse monitor to check my vital signs. After an awkward pause she said: “Hmm… That’s strange. The machine isn’t picking up a pulse. I guess it’s broken.” To which I said, “I hope so.” She laughed and I laughed. It meant a lot – I’ve always felt validated by people’s laughter. For that brief moment I wasn’t just a fragile, sick cancer patient. I was still myself.
For many people, the past 12 months have been the hardest of their lives – they certainly have been for me. But I believe that nothing can ever truly beat you if you’re able to laugh at it.
Michael Shafar performs at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival until April 18, at Sydney Comedy Festival April 29-30 and Brisbane Good Chat Comedy May 13.
For more info, head to michaelshafar.com.
For more of Michael’s insight into mining humour from life’s tough moments, see