A cancer diagnosis can throw anyone’s life into disarray, impacting their own life and the journeys of those around them. The life-threatening medical issue takes a toll on both physical and mental health, requiring a strong support system and a mechanism to release bottled-up emotions.
To create a positive release mechanism, one local comedian has done the seemingly impossible, providing a zone of comedic levity within the storm of a cancer-impacted life. Santa Monica resident Nicole Blaine recently teamed up with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and RadNet to offer “Storyectomy,” comedic and storytelling classes that culminate in a final showcase and cancer fundraiser for the ACS. For six weeks, those dealing with or affected by cancer met to learn the ropes of the genre, as Blaine teaches storytelling structure at The Crow within the Bergamot Station Arts Center. The final performance of the current Storyectomy students will take place Friday night at The Crow, with showcases at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
“It’s (about) awareness,” Blaine said. “We need to talk about it, we need to do it, we need to put it in a format where people can digest it. And then, you know, (you) can become the hero of (your) story.”
Each person selected for the classes are in different stages of dealing with cancer. There are “thrivers,” those currently undergoing treatment, “survivors” who have been given a clean bill of health, caregivers and medical professionals all learning how to “normalize” the cancer experience through comedy. Opening The Crow during the pandemic, Blaine concocted the plan with a representative of the ACS after a show featuring comedian Alex Hooper, who made “spectacular” jokes based around his chemotherapy.
Now running Storyectomy classes once every few months, the classes act as a unique support group where experiences are shared and meaningful connections are made. A previous Storyectomy class has followed each others’ journeys since the final performance, keeping a text messaging group chat alive to help one another.
“There was a woman that was very, very sick and very, very depressed in the last session,” Blaine said. “And she was (saying), ‘I don’t even know if I can do this, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to get out of bed every day.’ By week two, she was (saying), ‘this is why I’m getting out of bed every day.’ And she wouldn’t have signed up for a support group, that was (polarizing) to her, but somehow … everyone has to kind of find where is your support, where is your community … this is a really different way to get that support.”
The embrace of the comic community was something that paved the way for Blaine’s success. Growing up in Santa Monica, Blaine was forced to return to the city after one year of college due to her parents’ drug addiction, taking care of her brother alongside her future husband, Mickey. Though the time was “disturbing,” a pivotal lifeline during that period was broadcasts of “Friends” on Thursday evenings.
“For half an hour, we would laugh, and there was no sadness,” she said. “It was (an escape). I had always wanted to be a performer and make people laugh, but it was at that time when I felt comedy was a real escape from a lot of pain.”
Her love for “Friends” extended to the program’s star, Jennifer Aniston, who Blaine had an “obsession” with. As a fellow actress, Blaine’s later encounter with the star ended with the advice to collaborate with Mickey in writing a one-woman show. Blaine was unsure of what to perform for the show, until she was suggested writing about her precarious family life.
Her parents eventually sobered up, but the pain from that experience remained, and the eventual performances of the one-woman show acted as healing from the situation.
“When you can share your own point of view with someone, and they can fully see it in an artistic way, you reshape how they can see something,” she said.
Friday’s performances of Storyectomy will be reshaping how audiences and performers alike see cancer, and Blaine notes she is glad to partner with the ACS, commending the organization for services like rideshares and around-the-clock experts to speak to over the phone. Joining performers for the showcases will be comedians Hooper, Robin Tran, Dan Telfer and Jerry Rocha. Those attending the cancer fundraiser are encouraged to give as much, or as little, as they can to the ACS. Applications for future Storyectomy classes can be found at www.crowcomedy.com.