Quincy Jones’s decision to fight mesothelioma with laughter has inspired millions of Americans, landed him on the Ellen DeGeneres show, and given him the opportunity to make his dream come true.
The 32-year-old aspiring comedian was diagnosed with mesothelioma in July 2015. He was given one year to live.
Jones – whose given name is Quami Wallen – was diagnosed with stage 4 peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdomen and accounts for 15 and 20 percent of mesothelioma cases. The disease is rare and Jones must travel to get treatment.
Jones is fighting back and undergoing chemotherapy treatments to alleviate the symptoms of the disease. While chemotherapy leaves him feeling nauseous and tired, he is still doing stand-up and making other people laugh.
One night at a show, he told friend and fellow comedian Nicole Blaine he wanted to do one more thing before he dies: film a one hour stand-up comedy special. “This would be my opus. This would be my legacy,” Jones said of the one hour special. “You just want to feel like you’re giving something to the universe.”
What happened next is a testament to the extraordinary power of community.
Kickstarter Campaign for Hope
Blaine teamed up with her producer-husband, Mickey, to help film Jones’s performance (the pair have been making films together since 1999). They rallied volunteers to help produce the show and set up a Kickstarter campaign to pay production costs.
“Quincy’s goal has always been to reach people he doesn’t know through laughter,” Blaine wrote on the Kickstarter campaign page. “Let’s not let Quincy stand up alone. Your continued support will change his world and leave a legacy of laughter.”
Jones’s story went viral in the Los Angeles comedy community, where he had completed 1,000 shows in one year when performing in his 20s.
Blaine asked the comedy community to donate just under $5,000. Friends donated $15,000 in under 10 hours.
The following day, GQ magazine posted a story on its website, providing links to both the Kickstarter campaign and to a GoFundMe campaign started by Jones’s family to help pay his medical costs.
“Quami is a loving, outgoing, free-spirited person that will keep you entertained for days,” cousin Alexia Sharper wrote on GoFundMe. “He’s a wonderful uncle, brother, son and a friend to many. He is a passionate person who is always there to lift your spirits whenever you are down.”
After the GQ article, Jones was invited to appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show. By the time the show aired on March 15th, the total contributions to his Kickstarter campaign had hit $40,000. Eventually, donations would surpass $50,000.
During the show, DeGeneres – a stand-up comedian herself – implored HBO and Netflix executives to consider airing Jones’s stand-up show.
“Your attitude is amazing,” DeGeneres said. “They say laughter is the best medicine, and you make everybody laugh – you’re hilarious. …I want to make sure you leave that legacy as well.”
Less than a week later, DeGeneres invited Jones back to her show and surprised him with news that HBO would air his performance.
“You’re lying. Are you serious?” an ecstatic Jones said, laughing so hard he started to cough. “That’s the best surprise. Thank you.”
Jones’s dream will come true on April 4th, when he will film the one hour comedy special at the Telegram Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the GoFundMe Campaign started by Jones’s family has raised more than $26,500 to help pay for his medical care.
“In order to fight cancer, it’s important that you keep a positive, lighthearted attitude,” Jones said in the video for the GoFundMe campaign. “It’s a really heavy subject. Nobody knows what to say. … So it’s important that you acknowledge it, embrace the feelings that you’re feeling.”
In an interview with NPR, Jones shared his motivation for pressing on with his passions despite the diagnosis, for fighting cancer with laughter.
“There is no cancer when I’m on that stage,” he said. “I don’t feel anything, I give myself so much to the craft. I’m so in love with it that [I] don’t feel any limitations.”
Quincy Jones image courtsey GoFundMe