Comedian Chases His David Letterman Dream through Shocking Cancer Diagnosis

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A lot of people get into comedy with some notion of chasing a long-held dream. Comedian Steve Mazan has perfected the art of chasing your dream, and he wants to make sure others know they can do it too. His film Dying to Do Letterman released on DVD yesterday, shares his inspiring story.

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A native Chicagoan who got his start in comedy in San Francisco in the late '90s, Mazan received a shocking cancer diagnosis in 2005 at just 35 years old. "The doctors told us [Mazan and his wife Denise], 'Look, the tumors are slow-growing,' he told Laughspin in 2009. 'If everything goes okay, you could still live 10 to 15 years with this.'" Worst-case scenario, of course we asked about that, and they said, 'Five years.' And I thought, Holy shit, five years! What if I die in five years, what do I want to accomplish?"

Since he was 12 years old, the comedian had dreamed of performing on The Late Show With David Letterman, a Holy Grail in the industry. Over his then 10-year comedy career, he figured the chance would come along eventually. But that could still take a decade or more! Given the urgency of his diagnosis, Mazan decided that, if he was to accomplish anything, it had to be that coveted Letterman appearance.

"That said," the filmmakers, husband-and-wife team Joke Finocioen and Biagio Messina, added, "if he could wish for just one more thing ... it would be to document his journey."

Thus the film and Mazan's Dying to Do Letterman campaign was born. He posted the orginal dyingtodoletterman.com, which called on fans, family, and friends to encourage the Letterman booker to take a look at him. He was sure he had the talent to be booked on the show; he was just hoping to expedite the process, given his circumstances.

Unfortunately, simply getting cancer won't quite get you on the show. Letterman booker Eddie Brill did notice Mazan with all of the requests coming, but he turned the comic down quickly. "They actually sent me a cease-and-desist letter," Mazan said. "I was told I would have to earn my appearance." Brill thought Mazan wanted the TV time based on his cancer alone.

Fortunately for Steve Mazan, hard work, perseverance, and talent are what it takes to earn an appearance on Letterman, and he had plenty of that to offer. On September 4, 2009, after almost five years, 20 audition tapes, and a five hour cross-country flight to film in New York City, his five minutes on The Late Show with David Letterman aired on CBS. Watch that set below.

Steve Mazan performs on Letterman, 2009.

"When [the filmmakers] signed up for this, I think they only expected a quick project," Mazan told me when we first met. Instead, the comedian's journey lasted five years, far exceeding his original goal. Thankfully, they followed him all the way.

The film is an inspiring, educational, and entertaining account of a man's journey. It has hilarious moments, including clips of Mazan honing his perfect five minutes of jokes for the show. And while it has its vulnerable moments, the directors assure us, "This is not a depressing cancer movie. As directors, the movie the two of us wanted to make was about a guy chasing a dream."

The film has received rave reviews and accolades from film festivals across the country. And now, you can buy the DVD, as well as an accompanying book, and follow the journey yourself.

Awkward Silence is a weekly column covering local stand-up comedy in San Francisco.

Follow Dana Sitar on Twitter at @danasitarSF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.


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