A night of stand-up comedy from Asian American artists is proving laughter to be the best medicine for cancer patients, one laugh at a time.
The Asian American Donor Program will present the 2020 Laugh for Lives Event on March 13 at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco to help save the lives of those with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases. Past notable performers include alumna Ali Wong, Steve Byrne and Jimmy O. Yang. The event will ultimately benefit individuals in medical need, and alumna Karmen Yap, the outreach coordinator for AADP, said she has been involved with the comedian audition process to decide who will perform this year.
Yap said she deliberated with other AADP staff members on which comedians fit their target audiences of adults and college students who they see as potential blood donors for the organization.
“We work with blood cancer patients, (which includes) those with leukemia and lymphoma,” Yap said. “For a lot of these people, a stem cell transplant is the only hope for them because chemotherapy no longer works for them.”
Yap said that comedy styles vary throughout the event’s lineup as AADP kept its guidelines loose for potential comedians. She also said the organization was aiming to choose performers that could engage with audiences while keeping their sets geared toward adults.
Joey Guila, a Filipino American comedian slated to perform at the event in March, said being a three-time survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma makes participating in the event even more special for him. Once he went into remission, Guila said he decided to pursue comedy to offer people the same joy and comfort he found within the medium during his treatment.
“(Performing for these events) reminds me of when I was in the hospital,” Guila said. “I remember when I was laughing, I forgot that I had an IV in my veins; I forgot all the pain and discomfort.”
Guila finds a lot of his inspiration for jokes and bits from his experiences growing up in a Filipino household and being surrounded by friends of various racial backgrounds. He also pulls a lot of his comedic style from his late father, who he said was always the entertainer of the family.
“A lot of what I’ve seen as a child, going to different families’ houses and getting a taste of how people live differently from my own race, helped me realize that we’re all pretty much the same,” Guila said.
In the earlier stages of his career, Guila said he worked alongside fellow Asian comedians like Ken Jeong, Jo Koy and Bobby Lee in Los Angeles. Guila said being an Asian American in the comedy scene today aids in working toward representation in the industry.
In the same vein, Mylanah Yolangco, the community engagement coordinator for AADP, said while the Laugh For Lives event usually offers an all Asian American lineup, AADP still tries to include a diverse group of comedians to make its show as relatable as possible to all audiences. Yolangco said that because the show serves as a fundraiser, the comedians have an underlying understanding that their sets should carry a positive tone.
“We don’t really explicitly say that they can’t make jokes about this or that,” Yolangco said. “Since this is a fundraiser raising awareness about blood cancers and stem cell donations, (the comedians) already kind of understand what jokes are appropriate or not.”
In past years, AADP held auditions at local comedy clubs and picked opening acts for the event based off audience applause. For this year’s event, Yolangco said AADP posted about the show on Facebook, which resulted in a broader pool of applicants to choose from, creating a community-based atmosphere.
“We want to be able to bring that sense of community (to the event), which is what’s really important for us,” Yolangco said.