Comedian Matt Light was hosting an open mic last summer when he got a phone call that wasn't funny at all.
It was his physician informing him that he got the test results and that Matt had Hodgkin lymphoma.
"I didn't know what that was," the comic says. "I was like, 'Oh, great, well, I'll just get an antibiotic and I'll be fine.' And he's like, 'No, you have cancer.' "
You can imagine how that news hit the 24-year-old comedian from West View. He had been working a day job in sales along with doing stand-up for the past five years. That had to change in a hurry.
"I was like, I don't know how many chances I'm going to have. Screw my day job. I don't want to do this anymore. I want to focus on stand-up."
Given the chemo treatments, there was no real choice about working cancer material into his stage routine.
"I open up with the cancer stuff because right now I really don't have hair or eyebrows, so I address it," he says. "I'm like, 'It's easy for me. I was obviously the guy from "Breaking Bad" for Halloween. I didn't have to buy anything.' "
People, he says, are a little scared to laugh, until he shares doctor's orders about laughter being the best medicine.
Prior to the diagnosis, he says, "I had a darker side of comedy. I was more of a blue, dark comedian. I came off as a [jerk] with charm. I dealt with hecklers a lot because I was an insult comic. Once this all happened, it was a big transformation because I tell my story and I'm more relatable now. And it also helps me get away with a lot more now."
Although he was a different style of comic, Robert Schimmel also incorporated his cancer battle into his act, before dying due to injuries suffered in a car accident in 2010.
"I really wasn't familiar with his story until it happened to me," Mr. Light says. "Mario Lemieux was the only person I knew who had Hodgkins. And I read about what his struggles were and how he would get tired off the ice and he just stayed positive and motivated all the time. I thought, he had the perfect mindset. I know it's different with comedy."
He knew cancer was a touchy subject and wasn't sure how people would react.
"I knew I had something when I did a show in front of, like, 200 people and eight people came up to me after the show and they told me their story."
One of them was a woman recently diagnosed with cervical cancer who came up to him teary-eyed and told him that his act was a comfort to her and her family. "I was scared about offending them in a way," he says, "but every show I do now a few people will come up to me and thank me for telling that story. Now it's almost like I'm helping people get through [tough] times."
One thing he's careful to do is leave out the self-pity.
"It's definitely not one of those shows where you're going to feel sorry for me. You're going to go and feel, 'I wish I had that attitude.' "
Mr. Light planned two shows for Saturday night knowing that he had new scans coming back this week. He got the news on Monday: He's cancer free.