Stand-up for Cancer:

Jan 31 • COVER STORYNo Comments on Stand-up for Cancer:

Laughing for Life Benefit Comedy Show
City Stage
21 N. Front St., Ste. 501
2/4-5, 7 p.m., doors 6:30 p.m.
$20-25

cover story

FUNNY MAN FOR CHARITY: Jamey Stone is one of many on the bill for this weekend’s comedy charity benefit, Laughing for Life. Courtesy photo.

Matt Ward grew up in a home where the fight against cancer was constant. It was not his mother, nor was it his grandfather. His big brother, Adam, developed a brain tumor at the age of four. Hospitalized for most of his fifth year of life, Adam lost a great deal of his childhood. Instead of conquering the playground, he was conquering a heartless disease.

Lucky for Adam and his family, a happy ending prevailed—though not without a hefty price. Aside from the extreme emotional toil it took on the family, its debt added staggering weight to normal household bills. “It [left] us growing up very ‘efficiently,’ to put it nicely,” Matt Ward says.

Though a tough experience to endure, it gave Ward the impetus to help other families struggling with the financial burdens cancer creates. “I was interested in helping out a local cause while at the same time bringing together the [region’s] live comedy performers,” Ward explains.

John McQueen, Ward’s friend and fellow comedian, told him of the Steve Haydu St. Patrick’s Lo-Tide Run, which happens in Carolina Beach every year (this year’s event will be March 19; www.lotiderun.org). It provides help directly to the families who are relentlessly and bravely supporting the fight on a loved one’s life.

“The Lo-Tide Run. . . donates [the] event’s proceeds to a select few each year,” Ward explains. “I got together with the board members and presented them with the idea of [doing] a benefit comedy show. They were very receptive.”

Thus, Laughing for Life began on December 4th, 2008. Ticket costs were donated to families in need and added to the proceeds from the Lo-Tide Run. By nearly drawing 350 people to see the local stand-up, improv and sketch comedy groups, the event solidified itself a success. “We even got a cameo appearance from Hilarie Burton from ‘One Tree Hill,’” Ward explains.

The second year Laughing for Life took place over two nights, with the first show rated PG and the second for adults only. “The R-rated show ended up destroying the attendance of the PG night, selling out completely,” Ward says. “[We had] to turn folks away.”

In fact, attendance has surpassed Ward’s expectations altogether, having grown 30 percent over the past two years. It’s popularity comes from a bill of comedians who truly have a hold on comedy. Though Laughing for Life doesn’t have a PG night any longer (comedians can decide for themselves how “clean” they want to make their gig), it certainly offers some of the best up-and-coming stand-up acts, including recent Wilmington transplant and nationally touring comedian Jamey Stone.

“[He’ll] be appearing on Saturday, February 5th at the festival,” Ward says. “We have 20 performers lined up this year from all around the region, not just local, to bring the laughs for the cause. I feel blessed to know such great comedians.”

Saturday’s audience also will hear Mike Santos (winner of the Open Mic Contest at Comedy Cabana in Myrtle Beach), along with Leo Hodson. Paralyzed from the neck down and performing from his wheelchair, Hodson calls his gig “sit-down stand-up.” Also on the Friday’s bill Louis Bishop.

“It is an amazing joy to be able to use your talents for something good,” Bishop says. “I am very proud to be involved in such a great event. I have lost loved ones to cancer and seen many people beat [it]. My own father passed away from cancer of the throat, lungs and kidney. I am very much into doing anything I can to help.”

As the younger brother of a survivor, Matt Ward has plenty of reasons to be excited about the continual support for Laughing for Life. It has raised $10,000 to date to help local families pay off medical expenses.

“This money allows them to cope with the financial burden of a family member having cancer,” he says. “Cancer hits close to home for us all in some way.”

This year comedians stand up against cancer at City Stage on Friday, February 4th, and Saturday, February 5th. The shows begin both nights at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30. Those wishing to laugh for life should purchase their tickets early from www.laughingforlife.org. Reserved seating is $25, and general admission costs $20. However, reserved seats for Saturday night are already sold out.

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