Comedian’s last laugh on cancer

Michael Shafar is performing in this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

SINCE Michael Shafar turned his back on a law career for the world of stand-up comedy a few years ago, he has been a regular performer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

And in his new show 50/50 he can laugh about what has been the most traumatic event in his life – being diagnosed with testicular cancer in late 2017 and undergoing 11 hours of surgery and 24 weeks of chemotherapy.

“When I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, it was at a late stage and the doctors prognosis was only 50/50,” Shafar said matter-of-factly. “It reinforces how lucky I am to be around and still doing stand-up comedy.”

For every 50/50 ticket sold, Shafar will donate $2 to Cabrini Hospital. 

“The doctors at the hospital saved my life, so it would be nice to raise some money for the new oncology unit being built at the hospital.”

Despite the confronting nature of cancer, Shafar believes that it is not a taboo subject for comedy.

“Cancer is part of life and being able to draw on my experience for a purpose like the show has been helpful and somewhat of a cathartic experience for me,” he said.

“I don’t always want to talk about it, but for 12 months cancer was all I knew, so doing stand-up about something else would feel very inauthentic.

“The most confronting part was having to face my own mortality and think about what my legacy would be if I were to die.” 

Shafar has already performed 50/50 this year at festivals in Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane and has been thrilled with the response.

“I was worried that people may not laugh during the show and find it a bit confronting, but it has been the opposite because 50/50 is a punchy stand-up routine,” he said.

“I do cover the big moments such as being diagnosed with cancer, having treatments and surgery and telling my family, but I tell jokes about them also. The topic is serious but the comedy is a priority.”

Shafar is also using his comedy show to spread the message about men visiting a doctor if they suspect something is wrong with their health.

“Men have a sense of invisibility about them and don’t go to a doctor when they should,” said Shafar, 28, a graduate of Mount Scopus Memorial College and a former AJAX footballer who has always enjoyed good health. 

“Had I gone to the doctor earlier it would have been a much easier process for me and my family. If my girlfriend Amanda had not pushed me to go to the doctor I probably would be dead by now.”

His cancer was diagnosed in October 2017, followed by surgery and chemotherapy treatment for tumours that had spread to his chest. Further chemotherapy treatment was required in mid-2018.

While undergoing treatment Shafar continued to work as a writer on Channel 10’s The Project as well as doing comedy gigs.

“My chemo treatment was quite intense over a five-day period, then I would have two weeks off from treatment and within a few days I felt good and could work before starting the next week of chemotherapy,” he said.

“I could still lead a normal life for part of the time while receiving treatment.

“Now I’m feeling great and looking forward to this year’s comedy festival.

Shafar’s comedy career includes hosting Channel 31’s satirical news show The Leak in 2015, developing the satirical website Round Squares, representing Australia in the Laugh Factory’s Funniest Person in the World competition in 2016, and starring in Melbourne Comedy’s Rising Stars and 3 Course Comedy.

In 2017 he performed his solo show Jewish-ish at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, followed by Kosher Bacon at last year’s festival. 

Shafar has included a link on his website (www.michaelshafar.com) for people to donate to the Cabrini Foundation.

Michael Shafar’s 50/50 is at the Victoria Hotel boardroom, 215 Little Collins St, Melbourne until April 21. Bookings: comedyfestival.com.au.

DANNY GOCS