Pam Murphy is a professionally funny lady currently starring in her own solo comedy show, The C Word (which she wrote), at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. What’s it about? Oh, you know, just her getting diagnosed with breast cancer — that’s all. Drawing room comedy stuff. No big deal. Actually, you’re about to get a sense of just how hilarious Pam makes breast cancer become while she’s onstage, and why it’s so important for our mental health that we laugh about the worst thing that’s ever happened to her in her life. (C’mon, she wants us to!)
You had cancer and made it funny with your solo show,Â ”The C Word.” Pretend that I’m also professionally hilarious. Is it okay for me to make fun of cancer and cancer survivors, even if I’ve never had the disease myself?
First of all, thank you, and secondly, sure, if you want to. If youâ€™re trying to get a point across or if itâ€™s necessary for a joke (but more importantly, if itâ€™s funny), then go for it. I donâ€™t think cancer survivors have exclusive rights to cancer jokes. I donâ€™t think people with heart disease get mad every time someone says, â€śYou almost gave me a heart attack!â€ť But maybe they do. Before I was diagnosed, I joked about cancer. Oh, then look what happened. Oops. Maybe you shouldnâ€™t…
So many people are affected by cancer. They might have friends or family who were diagnosed. So if they make a good joke about it, it probably comes from a real place. With my show, Iâ€™m not really making fun of anyone else but myself.
Why did you really want and need to write and performÂ ”The C Word?”
I was already in comedy when I was diagnosed, and most of my friends (fellow comedians) encouraged me to write about it. So, while I was going through treatment I would write things down that I thought were funny. I took notes about things people said or things that happened. At first, I did the show because I ended up with a lot of material that was nagging at me, and I love to perform. Now that Iâ€™ve been performing it for a while, itâ€™s become something else. The show is very frank and I hope that after people see it, they can be a little nicer and happier, for at least 30 minutes anyway. And maybe Iâ€™m increasing cancer awareness, 100 people at a time. But if Iâ€™m going to be really honest, itâ€™s totally for selfish reasons. I love getting the laughs!
For you personally, is there ever a mental health etiquette line you worry about crossing when it comes to turning cancer into comedy?
Not me! Is there a mental health etiquette line I should be worried about? No one told me. I try not to worry about other peopleâ€™s mental health. (Iâ€™ve got my hands full with my own.) Some people might think that things in The C Word are crude, but those things are honest. If you canâ€™t take it, then thatâ€™s your issue. There are some jokes that arenâ€™t very politically correct, but part of the joke is that I can get away with them, because I had cancer. I canâ€™t worry about other peopleâ€™s reactions when Iâ€™m writing something. I have to do what I think is funny. If I tried to do things because I thought other people would think they were funny, they would end up not being funny at all.
Okay, were Gilbert Gottfried’s tweets about the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami unfunny or misunderstood? If the latter, how could they have been written and delivered more effectively?
Eek! All right, Iâ€™ll take a crack at this. Gilbert Gottfried has been doing this a lot longer and has been much more successful than I have, so here goes. Thatâ€™s kind of Gilbert Gottfriedâ€™s â€śthing.â€ť He can deliver an insensitive or offensive joke, get booed, and then win an audience back. The problem with tweeting the jokes is that you donâ€™t have Gilbert Gottfriedâ€™s face to look at saying: â€śWhaaat? Come on guys! Itâ€™s me.â€ť
Japan is suffering through a terrible tragedy and so many people have lost their lives. Most comedians tell jokes as a way to deal with horrific things — thatâ€™s our coping mechanism. One of my best friends (another comedian) was in Tokyo at the time of the recent earthquake. He was fine (thankfully), but pretty terrified, so he tweeted jokes which helped him and his friends feel better in the midst of the earthquake and its aftermath. But his jokes werenâ€™t mean-spirited and weren’t aimed at anyone but himself.
What has the response been like toÂ ”The C Word” from cancer survivors?
Actually, I havenâ€™t had many survivors come to the show. Cancer survivors are lazy people who hate fun. The few who have seen it say they love it, and I believe them.
The majority of people who come to the show arenâ€™t cancer survivors. I mean, sure, The C Word is about cancer, but itâ€™s also about human behavior — how people can be selfish, insensitive, awkward, and insecure, and the ways in which we all deal with tragedies and everyday situations.
I would love for more cancer survivors and newly diagnosed patients to come see the show, because I hope they can look at me and say, â€śIf that idiot got through it, so can I.â€ť Oh, and Iâ€™ve been trying to get the word about The C Word out to various cancer organizations.
Pamela Murphy is a writer and performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City. Her next performance of “The C Word” is Friday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. and you can buy tickets here on UCB’s website. In addition to “The C Word,” you can see Pam perform with improv team Standard Oil and sketch team Arbuckle. Over the last five years, she has performed in a number of shows at the UCB Theatre. She also loves making Internet videos. She has appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and a bunch of commercials. She has two dogs that love her very much. Here’s her website: murphyplease.com.
photo: Ari Scott