SARATOGA SPRINGS — The first time comedian Jodi Weiner considered holding a cancer fundraiser made up of comedic acts was not long after she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer at the Saratoga Hospital’s Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center in 2013. In the midst of her shock and distress, she realized she had just suddenly joined a community of patients and survivors that were some of the kindest and most courageous people she had ever met. She wanted to give back, and give back with laughter and funds.
“The women and men who walk in there [Molly Wilmot Center] are so sweet, even though they are going through the worst time in their life,” said Weiner. “You never meet nicer people than walking into a cancer center, and they shouldn’t be. I’m not.”
At the time, Weiner underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and was too sick to follow through on her wish, but not long after becoming a survivor, she was again diagnosed with cancer.
“It was devastating that first time. You don’t know, you don’t understand,” said Weiner. “The cancer takes control, you have no control and that’s the worst way to feel. This summer I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which wasn’t as bad because I had surgery and radiation. I will have chemo pills for five years, but those haven’t started yet. Five years. Brutal. But this time, I said, I’m going to do something.”
Weiner felt lucky because she and her husband, comedian Vinnie Mark, belong to a close-knit community that spreads across the country – comics. Between her health benefits and the generous support of some of the biggest names in the industry, her husband was able to leave the road and stay with Weiner throughout her treatment.
“People have been very, very good to me. Some major stars, who want to remain anonymous, were very generous,” said Weiner, “but even the guys who only make fifty bucks a show sent fifty bucks. I’ve been very, very lucky. If my life ended tomorrow I could say I had a full life.”
Weiner’s gratitude is overflowing, not only for her extended professional family, but close to home as well. “Remember, the family members are affected as much as the person who has cancer. I have a husband who is really supportive, by my side, takes me to treatment every day, the most supportive man I’ve ever met in my life,” said Weiner. This December, they will have been married 21 years. They renewed their vows in Vegas the same year she was initially diagnosed.
“But some people don’t have that,” said Weiner. “They are alone or their family doesn’t help them. I live in West Fort Ann, and had to be here every day for 33 days for treatment. Some people live right around the corner, but not everybody does.”
Saratoga Hospital has a Cancer Patient Fund to help cover expenses that insurance doesn’t, such as transportation, wigs, dietary supplements, even food. To help raise money so that fund can help as many people as possible, Weiner, Mark, and fellow comedians Chris Monty and special guest Mike Speirs will appear in “Comics Care: Comedians Touched by Cancer Give Back” on Thursday, November 10 at the Embassy Suites in Saratoga Springs. Doors open at 7 p.m. for 8 p.m. show time. Reservations are $25 per person. Proceeds from the event, including an on-site raffle, will benefit Saratoga Hospital’s Cancer Patient Fund.
“The cancer community – our patients, friends and family, and cancer survivors – is an incredibly close group of people, supporting and encouraging each other and programs like our Cancer Patient Fund,” said Jennifer Baldwin, LMSW, OSW-C and oncology social worker at Saratoga Hospital’s Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center. “To use comedy as a bridge to share and tell personal stories about their experiences with cancer is brave. We truly appreciate Jodi and Vinnie and Chris and Mike volunteering their talent to entertain, as well as raise awareness and funding for our program. They’re pretty special people.”
The three comedians have extensive experience performing on TV (Weiner on ABC’s “The View” and Comedy Central, Mark on Letterman and VH1, Monty on HBO’s “Vinyl”), in film (Monty in “Paul Blart Mall Cop 2”), and live (both Weiner and Mark on multiple USO tours and at The Borgata Casino).
“And we’re so funny! We’re actually funny!” joked Weiner. “This is a fundraiser for a good reason. I’m funny, Vinny’s funny, Chris is funny and my friend Mike Speirs jumped on board and he’s funny as well.”
Mark said he was always interested in magic as a kid, so he auditioned in 1981 for the Long Island Laughter Company. “I got lucky enough to get cast with Rosie O’Donnell, Bob Nelson and Eddie Murphy,” said Mark. “I was just 18 or 19, so young and too stupid to be nervous. We did a live show of improv and sketches every Monday night.”
Mark had owned the Saratoga Comedy Club, which was located not far from the Embassy Suites, which is donating the space and food and beverages for the event. Mark thought it would be nice to perform so close to the venue where he and Weiner had performed before along with stars like J.J. Walker from the television series “Good Times” and Colin Quinn from Saturday Night Live.
“The View I was on twice,” said Weiner. “They treated me so well, such nice people, I loved it. I saw Barbara Walters, Billy Zane and Susan Lucci. She is such a tiny little thing, like a ballerina doll. I’m 5 foot 3 inches, and she was up to my belly button.”
Chris Monty met Vinnie through the comedy circuit, and they’ve been close friends for 15 years. “In the early 90’s, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Monty. “She opted to have a single mastectomy and was cancer free, and within three years her sisters got breast cancer. They beat it and decided to raise money to beat it, so since then I do a comedy show every year for the Three STROHM Sisters Family Foundation.”
Then, in the summer of 2012, Monty’s mother was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer. “My mother is tough as anything,” said Monty. “She did aggressive chemo and she fought tooth and nail to her last breath. But it was a very aggressive cancer. She passed on January 4 of 2013. Vinnie called me, it was about the same time that Jodi had cancer, and we were both crying on the phone together.”
Monty said that when Mark called to ask him to participate in this fundraiser, he was immediately on board. “If I’m available, I will always make time to give back to any kind of cancer organization,” said Monty. “Laughter is the best medicine, even when my mother was sick, I try to bring smiles to people’s faces.”
Dinner and pre-show cocktails will be available from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Diamond Club Grill at the Embassy Suites hotel. For more information or to register for “Comics Care,” visit www.saratogahospital.org or call 518-583-8340.