Hello. My name is Andy Erikson and I’m a standup comedian. Oh, and I have Marfan Syndrome. You can read all about it here in this post if you would like some more context.
So lets dive in: I don’t have any jokes in my act about Marfan Syndrome. I don’t mention my heart condition and rarely bring it up on stage, and I’ve been wondering why. In this article I’m going to explore why I don’t talk about my heart condition on stage, something that has been on my mind lately. I would love to hear any feedback or personal experiences from readers with and without Marfan Syndrome. The comments on my last post were insightful, inspiring and overall amazing and I want to thank all of you in advance for taking the time to read and then taking the time to comment. It means the world to me. I will also have information about my new album in this post as well if that is something you are interested in.
Okay, so here goes nothing.
I don’t consider myself a private person.
For many of us, going to the doctor is one of the most private experiences in our lives. We share things with our doctors that we wouldn’t tell our best friends or might not even share with our spouses. We sign confidentiality agreements and talk in hushed voices and we are completely vulnerable when we are on the exam table. It’s like the show “Naked and Afraid” except we get to wear a thin robe, and instead of being surrounded by trees and nature we’re surrounded by tongue depressors, patronizing posters about the benefits of exercise, and free latex gloves.
But the doctor’s office has been a different experience for me. I don’t worry so much about my privacy. In fact I’ve used the phrase “The more the merrier” in a doctor’s office on countless occasions. It’s probably the only place I use that phrase and I’m not being sarcastic. I learned very early on, that knowledge and awareness of Marfan Syndrome is power. The more hands on experience health professionals get with me, the more they can learn, and the more lives they might be able to save. So when a cardiologist asks, “Do you mind if I get some of the nurses and students in here?” I smile and say, “Bring ’em in. Let’s do this. The more the merrier!” And the students file in and they’re nervous and wide-eyed at first. But then they ask questions and take notes, and they listen to my heartbeat and confidently discuss my scars and stretch marks, they examine my skinny wrists and look at my dislocated lenses and scribble feverishly into their notebooks and nod their heads. Then as they leave, I say, “Tell your friends!” And we laugh and hug and take a quick group photo and I give them my business card and we exchange numbers.
Okay so that last part isn’t true, but everything before that was a reality. I’m not embarrassed of my body when I’m at a doctor’s office. It’s quite the opposite. I’m proud of it. I exhibit a lot of the physical and internal signs of Marfan Syndrome. I’m a living breathing case study and I get to feel special and unique in a positive way. I’m not saying that going to the doctor is fun and exciting, most of the time I leave crying because things tend to either stay the same, or get worse. There’s never anything overly amazing to celebrate. But I do find satisfaction in helping others learn.
So like I said, I’m not a private person when it comes to Marfan Syndrome. I love talking to people about my disorder, and not just doctors. I’m totally cool with people asking questions and I like answering them. But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean I go out of my way to bring it up.
Awareness is important with Marfan Syndrome. It is a powerful weapon and the best defense. Once you know you have the disorder you can take heart medications that have the potential to greatly extend your life expectancy. You can monitor the growth of your aorta and have surgery if you need it. You can change your daily stress and exercise habits to better protect your heart and body. Knowing you have the disorder is wonderful. As sucky as it is to find out you have a heart condition, knowing is a million times better. It doesn’t always feel that way, but trust me. It’s better to know.
So why don’t I talk about my heart condition on stage? Why don’t I want to spread awareness and save lives like I do when I’m at the doctor’s?
This question has been mulling around in my head lately especially since the airing of Last Comic Standing and my recent blog post and outpouring of support from the Marfan Community. More people have been asking if I have any Marfan jokes and I basically feel ashamed because the answer is no. I don’t talk about my heart condition on stage. I haven’t used my influence and stage time to spread awareness. It hasn’t been a priority. I think to some people it may seam like I’m embarrassed of it, or that it’s too painful to talk about. But that’s not true.
Maybe I don’t think Marfan Syndrome is funny? Hmm. Nope. That’s definitely not true, and I think we can all attest to that. Having the wingspan of an eagle and the vision of a blind eagle will always make me chuckle. And I do joke about my appearance, but I don’t ever explain the real reason I’m so lanky.
I’ve never made a conscious decision not to talk about my heart condition. When I write jokes I just write what I think is funny. I don’t try to avoid anything. I just write. And my mind doesn’t go to Marfan Syndrome. It just doesn’t. But to be fair It doesn’t go to a lot of things.
What I do know though, is that I’ve never wanted my heart condition to define me. I know that without my condition I would be a completely different person, and I probably wouldn’t be a comedian, but I would still want to be me. And I’ve never wanted anybody to feel sorry for me. Even when I was crying alone in my room as a confused teenager, feeling sorry for myself, I didn’t want others to look at me like I was fragile. Behind the scenes I get to be a nervous wreck, but in the spotlight, I want to be brave.
Looking back to my childhood, the comedians I looked up to didn’t talk about having disorders. They made observations about everyday things and had witty commentary about our society. Perhaps I was just following in their footsteps, not realizing that I could dive into my disorder, because I just hadn’t seen it before?
But then again, I do know of several comedians that talk about their disorders on stage. And they’re hilarious and great…
But the truth is I don’t want to be the comic with the heart condition and I’ve seen how someone’s illness can really take over. I just want to be the comic with the hilarious jokes. Or I want to be the squirrel comic! That would be awesome. Really though, I just want to be seen as a great writer and performer.
I do think that’s all about to change though. The more exposure I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized what an opportunity I truly have. I feel like I’ve been able to establish myself without using my condition as a tool and now it would be fine to add it to my act. Yes, I have Marfan’s. But I also have a cat. And a billion stuffed animals. And a love of candy. And a wizard costume I explicitly wear on Wizard Wednesday. And yes, I also have Marfan Syndrome. And I don’t need to ignore it anymore.
I want to help people. Like genuinely help people. I want to be vulnerable in a whole different way. I think I want to talk about Marfan Syndrome on stage.
What do you guys think? Do you think that’s a good idea? Do you think I could find ways to inspire and spread awareness effectively on stage while still being funny? Do you think I could find a good balance? I’m up for the challenge.
And I’ve had my fair share of challenges in this life. It’s wild to see how far I’ve come and see everything I’ve accomplished.
Below is a press release for my debut Comedy Album. It’s called Secret Unicorn and it’s available for pre-order now, and will be officially released on September 1st. I don’t talk about my heart condition on this album. It’s just me, telling jokes and having fun, nothing too serious. I don’t talk about the disheartening things going on in my life, I’m just trying my best to help people forget about the crappy things going on in their lives. So for 40 minutes, they just get to smile. And I get to smile too. And I’m proud of it. I really am.
I’m happy to have this CD to document the beginning of my comedy career. It’s a culmination of 7 years of work and a lifetime of figuring out who I am and who I want to be. It’s 7 years of writing and living. Although the content might not be particularly meaningful, or deep, the album has jokes I wrote while in the hospital, and jokes I told before my dad died, and jokes I wrote after I thought I’d never think of anything funny to say ever again. These are the silly thoughts that occurred to a girl while she was living her life. Through ups and downs, love and loss, I kept writing, and I kept finding things that made me smile and made other people smile too.
I really hope people enjoy this album. And I hope people aren’t too critical. And I hope as people write their reviews of the album, they know that the girl telling these jokes has a pretty serious heart condition and too much stress could be deadly… And negativity causes stress, so best to just give it 10 stars so I don’t die… 🙂
Okay I’m kidding. But seriously. I could die.
Before I go, I just want you to know that I’m so glad that I have the support of a whole new wonderful community of “Mar Fans” and also people who searched me out from Last Comic Standing. I love you all so much!
Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share this blog post with whomever you want.
And be sure to tune in to Last Comic Standing TONIGHT on NBC at 10/9c to watch me in the Semi-finals!