The story of my book: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo
Look, I realise cancer is not the most naturally hilarious subject. You rarely find yourself slaying at a dinner party with a selection of your best tumour-based one-liners. You never saw Rodney Dangerfield mugging to camera while saying ‘Whoa, when I said I wanted a cancer, I was talking about the star sign!’ I imagine most people probably place it in the Strictly No Laughing Matter basket alongside 9/11, the Holocaust and Daryl Somers.
Yet in November 2007, at the age of 22, when I discovered a 7cm tumour growing on the surface of my right lung, comedy was the only reaction I could even consider. This may have had something to do with youth and that residual feeling of invincibility you carry into your twenties. Or it may have had something to do with the fact that I’d already had cancer once, a tumour growing out the back of my left knee when I was 11, and to get it again this far down the track when I was otherwise in perfect health? Well, shit, if that isn’t just a fantastic joke on the part of the universe.
So, I performed a show called Luke’s Got Cancer at the 2009 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It was… funnier than it sounds. The show was the natural end point of a creative detonation driven by the base-level fury that only a surprise tumour can provide. More than anything I was just supremely pissed at the entire situation. I’d done my time in the cancer grist mill. I really had. What right did this ball of malignant tissue have to upend my life at the point when it finally felt like it was clicking into place? I had no interest in submitting to the logic of a cancer diagnosis, of filing off neatly and quietly into what Christopher Hitchens' called the ‘land of malady’. I’d been there once before. Let me assure you, the scenery sucks.
I turned to stand-up. Comedy was a way of seizing control of the narrative and upending this simple idea we have of how cancer patients should act, and how we should act towards them. In making people laugh at my plight, I was excavating the darkened crevices where discomfort and fear huddles and multiplies. I had no interest in becoming the sympathy case. I wanted this to be completely and unarguably normal, an experience with no intrinsic value besides that which I chose to put into it.
Five years on and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo is a continuation of this manifesto, albeit with slightly more detail, better jokes and the guidance of a good editor. It’s not a book about denying cancer, but about seeing cancer as part of a life, rather than its sum total. An attempt to find the best in the worst, and the humour in the irredeemable. To get as much out of these tumours as they’ve gotten out of me. To call them ordinary until it starts to sound like the truth.
That or it’s just a bang-up opportunity to bring out the story of that time I needed to freeze a sample of my sperm/dated a lesbian while on chemo/let a Buddhist masseuse finger my nose/blocked a girl’s toilet the morning after a drunken one-night-stand. Cancer is, if nothing else, a lesson in contradiction. You’d be amazed how much comfort their is in absurdity, if you just take a moment to look.