Josh Haddon is a standup comedian, comedy club owner and entrepreneur from Canada. He’s also (probably) dying of cancer.
Haddon made a big splash on Reddit with his candid, funny and tragic videos describing “the funny thing about cancer.”
We sat down with him to ask about dying gracefully and why he decided to make a joke out of a serious disease.
“I’ve always told people to live life to the fullest and do what makes them happy. If you’re sad, stop doing the stupid shit that makes you sad. Maybe having cancer makes me a bit more of an expert now.”
When did you find out you had cancer?
The middle of November. On December 1 they told me how bad it is.
How bad is it?
It’s Stage 3 esophageal. That’s not a good one. There’s not really a good one, but there are bad ones. I wish I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. That would be better. It’s metastasized. It’s in my lungs and my lymph nodes. My best-case scenario is that I have chemo and a surgery that will prevent me from every lying down again. Statistically speaking there’s a five percent chance I’ll be alive three years from now.
The good news is I have a lot of great stuff planned for the next three years.
I’m writing a book right now and that takes up a lot of my time. I went into three bookstores and I couldn’t find a cool, unvarnished Chicken Soup for the Cancer Soul. I hope to raise some funds and send it out to cancer centers. When you’re sitting around a cancer ward you don’t want to read about 20 ways to spice up your sex life or whatever is in Cosmo. I want to take away the dirtiness of cancer. I have standup comedian friends who say the dirtiest shit on stage but won’t say “cancer” to my face. I don’t want the last part of my life to be treated like a leper. We’re all dying and we could all die at any minute. I don’t want a stigma around me every time I walk into a room.
How did you decide to talk about your cancer on YouTube?
Well, I could keep it private and put on a show and pretend like everything was OK. But I’m a very public person. I own a comedy club. I’m very in the public eye here in Canada. So I asked Google what I should do and Google said “just do what you normally do.” I also didn’t want to waste my final years constantly texting people updates. A friend saw it and said I should put the video on Reddit. It was number one on Get Motivated for two days or whatever. I did an AMA at the same time as Jon Taffer from Bar Rescue and blew him out of the water. I think people like that I’m gruff and don’t give a shit. I’ve gotten thousands of emails and letters from people all over the world and they are supporting me and want me to continue putting out the videos.
Why make a joke out of cancer?
I do fundraisers for kids dying of leukemia or a family that’s lost their house. I joke around and make other people laugh during their hard times. Why can’t I enjoy that too? I’d feel like a hypocrite. There are days that are hard. There are days when I can’t get out of bed. But so what? On days when I can I should be making people laugh about something so dark.
What does a bad day look like for you?
My bad days are never mental. They’re physical. If it can work for cancer it can work for anything. Obviously depression is a serious thing, but self talk is very important. A positive mental attitude is our strongest asset. I really do say “OK, Haddon, you’ve got this!” And maybe I pass out because I’m so tired from the chemo. I’d like to say that I watch my own YouTube videos, but I don’t.
The one on the right is a self-portrait entitled “Refusing To Be Cancer’s Bitch.”
Who inspires you?
The thousands of people that are reaching out to me. Survivor stories or family members. All the positive stranger influence. It sounds sad, but it does way more than the five or ten people closest to me. They’re sad that I’m dying so it’s weird. It’s the people contacting me that really keep me going.
How are your family and close friends dealing with how you’re dealing with your cancer?
My mother doesn’t get it, but she doesn’t get a lot of my life. She’s being amazingly strong. She’s devastated. But she knows that it’s my life and I’m going to do what I want. She was nervous to share my video because she thought people were going to judge her. She got the most shares and likes ever and joked around because I was dying. She’s a Christian woman so she’s worried about me using the F word or telling people not to pray for me.
How should people treat their loved ones with cancer?
I’m only one guy. I’m not representative of everyone with cancer. But the best thing is to just treat them normally. I can’t imagine it can do much for someone’s recovery with you babying them. I guess the worst thing, and people do it all the time, is saying, “I know this guy who had that cancer and they died within three months.” That happens all the time. They tell their personal story about someone who died right away. Thanks.
What about advice for cancer patients?
I haven’t written this part of my book yet because I’m not sure. It’s the same piece of advice I’d give anyone: I guess it’s time to start living. Get rid of all your regret and apprehension and just start doing what you want to do. We read these silly sayings and fortune cookies on Facebook about cherishing each moment and carpe diem, but none of us actually do it. My biggest advice is to do it. I’ve always lived that way and that’s why I’m blessed. Maybe there’s a higher power saying “you’re having too much fun, time to slow it down.” I’ve always told people to live life to the fullest and do what makes them happy. If you’re sad, stop doing the stupid shit that makes you sad. Maybe having cancer makes me a bit more of an expert on this now.
How do you want to die?
I’m not going to die with cancer. I’m going out my own way. If I become Walter White terminal I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do, but it will be pretty awesome. I’ve got a lot of ways that are super inappropriate and I’m not going to go into it, but I’ll leave some videos for my family and to people I’ve wronged during my life. I’m not going to let cancer take me in the office or my mom’s basement. What’s your audience like?
Men in their 30s…
If you want to write “hookers and blow” you can say that, because it’s what I say onstage. I’ve been contacted by the producers of Ellen, but I’m not going to say “hookers and blow” there. Go ahead and say the other stuff, but the short answer is “hookers and blow.”