Why I Don’t Talk About My Heart Condition On Stage

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!

Follow this link to learn more about Marfan Syndrome

Follow this link to pre-order my album on iTunes

Follow this link to pre-order my album from Rooftop Comedy

Follow this link to read my unicorn blog

Follow this link to join my mailing list

Follow this link to watch my invitational set on Last Comic Standing that aired a couple weeks ago

 

Andy Erikson One Sheet Final-01

Aug 19, 2015 | Posted by in Blog, Posts | 35 comments

Comments (35 Responses)

  1. Terri Anderson says:

    It seems to me you are experiencing growth as a writer and comic, and I love how you express it. You approach Marfans with sensitivity and humor, and what could be better. I bet you are their favorite patient! Now I need to order your album.

  2. Andrea says:

    That last time I saw you perform in Minneapolis, you shared the stage with another comedian who has Marfan. That opened the door for you to talk about it, and if I remember right you ended up devoting a good portion of your stage time to talking about the disorder, the symptoms, and what it was like growing up with it. I realized with certainty that night how much you’ve grown as a comedian in the years that I’ve known you. You were absolutely comfortable and at ease, and even though none of it seemed like rehearsed material you were still hilarious. I think you are at the point in your career where you will not be “the Marfan comedian” but rather “Andy Erikson, the comedian who happens to have Marfan Syndrome.”

    • admin says:

      Andrea I love you! And thank you so much! That show has been on my mind. It was so fun and silly and I wondered if it was a fluke because so many people in the audience were close friends. But I have the set on tape! I am going to listen to it and see if i can make it part of my set. You are an awesome friend! And an amazing tambourinist 🙂 We may need to write some Marfan songs…

  3. April says:

    I would love to hear some “Marf” jokes. But then, humor is how I deal with stressful things. i don’t have Marfan Syndrome, but my daughter does. we don’t let it define her life, but it is nice to have the awareness and the laughter. We’ll be cheering for you, Marf jokes or not!!

  4. Cecily says:

    Replace Marfan Syndrome with Type 1 Diabetes and I can relate. When I was first diagnosed I did not talk much about my diabetes. I never hid in the disgusting bathroom to take an injection, just did it discreetly at the table. A not secret secret. Like you said, I did not want it to define me. You know, I’m not shy. The more comfortable I became with my disease the more I started to talk about it in my everyday life. I get through the day often with sarcasm, that is sometimes lost on people but most of the time appreciated. Sometimes it’s easier to joke about something then to be afraid of it so, when people ask me questions about my life expectancy and complications like “Are you going to go blind?” Or “Are you going to lose a leg?” I always respond with humor. Much better than making them feel bad about asking such a dumb question. Once, when talking about the time I was in a coma someone asked me if I was still “brain dead”. Seriously?! Anyway, I went off on a bit of a tangent there but I think my point is I would love to hear you joke about Marfan. Especially the crazy stuff people say when they find out you have it. Not only is it awesome to spread awareness, but talking about something like that displays a kind of confidence that not many people possess, and really sets you apart. I say go for it!

    • admin says:

      Wow thank you for sharing! I don’t know very much about diabetes and i’ve already learned so much from your post! It’s eye opening and inspiring. It’s so weird when something so personal becomes public, but i’m finding it very therapeutic. 🙂 Thank you for your insights!!

  5. Correna says:

    I think you should find a way to incorporate it into your routine. You never know whose life you may save because someone in the audience, who may have never heard of Marfan, realizes that maybe that’s them. My dad had Marfan, but didn’t know. When they realized, his aorta was already pretty bad, they took him for surgery and it burst on the table (thankfully, he survived), but awareness is the key. The more you know the better, and you’d be making it known a bit more by “joking” about it.

    • admin says:

      So sorry to hear about your dad and so glad he survived! It’s stories like this that really help motivate me. I live in a weird bubble, but i’m looking forward to stepping out of my comfort zone. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with me!

  6. Cathy Mudre says:

    i was the first person in my family at age 25 that was diagnosed with Marfans. I was found to have an aortic aneurysm which was repaired at Johns Hopkins with Dr. Gott. My dad was found to be the carrier of the Marfan gene. He died the next year after aneurysm repair at age 60. I have a brother that is 7 years younger that was diagnosed at the same time of my surgery. He was given prescription for beta blockers but only took them for a few weeks because he did not like how they made him feel. He did what ever he wanted to do with follow up only a few times when I begged and pleaded. My surgery was 1989, 9 months after I was married, I was a labor and delivery nurse at Yale. My brother in 2013 was going to get a truck load of mulch. With the first scoop he feel to the ground. Thank God his nephew and 12 year old son was with him. He was airlifted to hospital. He had dissected from his arch through his kidneys. He was in Greenville SC in ICU being kept alive. I had a connection in Charlotte NC. Had him transferred there. He had 7 open chest procedures to totally rebuild his total aorta. I am in the hospital currently. We as a family have endured a lot with Marfans. I also have students come in and listen to my heart , I now have an artificial aortic valve and mitral valve . My brother signs a song “monkey diesease”. I do not like to hear this song. You do have the ability to educate but need to be careful not to hurt the feelings of those who have struggled just to stay alive with this syndrome. I will definitely watch you tonight. Good luck,

    • admin says:

      Your family has been through so much and I am so sorry to hear about your dad and your brother, and you. I can’t believe you’re in the hospital now! That is so hard and my heart goes out to you. I’m the only person in my family to have the disorder, and I also get teased and struggle to stay alive. And I think that’s a really good point. I don’t want to make anybody feel bad. Even if I make fun of myself, i might hurt someone’s feelings and I don’t want to do that. I think that might also be where some of my nervousness comes from. Thank you so much for reading and for watching and for the luck! love and hugs and you’ll be in my thoughts!

  7. Terri Joyner says:

    Click Contact to read my story. I just had open heart and they took out the two aneurysms that I have known about since 1986 when we lost our Older Brother to Marfan Syndrome. I came home from the hospital on day 5 and I can do everything myself. It was nothing of what I thought it would be like. I have had worse root canals. I have also had my dislocated lenses removed over 9 yrs ago and that improved my life so so much. I see colors better than ever. I did lose the right eye sight to detached retina some 7 yrs ago but the left eye is 25/20 with no contacts or glasses. I see better with one eye than two. So I just wanted to add to what you have said what has been my life too!

    • admin says:

      Hi Terri! I tried going to your website but I got an error. What is the link?
      It’s so amazing to hear your story and your recovery is amazing?! Aren’t doctors and surgeons the best?! Well some of them are at least and it’s so cool to see someone with a positive attitude who’s been through so much. I’m so excited you can see colors! lol I remember that feeling after my eye surgery 🙂 love and hugs!

  8. Thank you for sharing this with me and others. I follow you on Twitter and you also follow me. I wish you all of the very best.
    Bill

  9. Dawn Knowles says:

    Hi Andy,
    We just started watching Last Comic Standing on Hulu and so we’re only through episode 2, but I thought your first set was great! I have Marfan Syndrome too and my husband said, after watching your set, “she has the same sense of humor as you…maybe it’s a Marf trait.” He was kidding of course.

    Here’s my take on whether or not to incorporate MFS into your act. First, I think the stuff you wrote about the doctor’s office being like an episode of Naked and Afraid is comedy gold. So funny and so true. But the decision is totally your own. This is your comedy and this is your journey with Marfan, so if you want to talk about it–go for it. And if you want to leave it out of your act-that’s great too. You don’t have an obligation to spread awareness just because your chosen career puts you in front of an audience but you have freedom to do so if it’s what you decide to do. I think it could be challenging to make it something most people can relate to–but you’re a talented joke writer so it may be doable for you. 🙂 Our lives with MFS are different than those without and so what I find funny medically can be different. My extended family sometimes gets offended or shocked by the humor I will express about my condition but they don’t have it so they don’t fully get it. Anyway, those are my random thoughts, thanks for inviting feedback.

    • admin says:

      Thank you so much Dawn! I love getting insight from other people with the condition. I wish there were more people with Marfan who did standup! Have you ever given it a thought? 🙂

      Maybe we can have an open mic at the next Marfan Conference!

      Thank you for commenting and cheering me on! It warms my heart 🙂

  10. Cherie says:

    Omg Andy you are amazing! I have Marfans and just reading this made laugh and tear up (in a good way) all in the one go because the way you describe the highs and the lows is exactly how it is, from the flapping eagle wingspan arms to the hospital visits where you are so determined to stay positive but you leave upset because sometimes it just does get the better of you. My life got so much easier when I finally stopped running from Marfans and started to except and be more open with it. You are definitely right knowledge is power and the more we share our experiences the more united we are. You are such an inspirational person to have in the Marfan community and to have the ability to make people laugh and smile is a gift. I don’t mind if you have some jokes about Marfan Syndrome if anything we can all relate and have a giggle, after all laughter can help us to look on the brighter side of things. Keep up the great work and I really look forward to hearing your CD
    Cherie x

    • admin says:

      You are so wonderful and sweet, thank you! And I agree that accepting my condition has been helpful. I don’t want to hide from it. Growing up has helped too. I feel like this is something I will look back on and think how silly it was for me to worry so much. I’m looking forward to writing more marfan material and being more involved in the community. love and hugs and thanks again for your comment. Really made me smile 🙂

  11. Kate says:

    You have already educated many doctors and nurses and medical professionals by being willing to be examined and answer questions whenever they ask to bring in the entourage. Like you, I have Marfan and I’m the first in my family. I’m also an educator, so every time I’m in hospital, they ask to bring in the med students and I’m more than happy to spread awareness in this way- so that they can see Marfan in human form, not just in the textbook format. I’ve volunteered with Marfan organisations and been part of awareness events, but there were times in my life in various circumstances where being Marfan wasn’t central and didn’t need to be known. Everyone’s Marfan Journey is unique and I’m sure that if you are inspired to use Marfan in a set, you will do so in a positive way. Did you see ‘The Internship’ with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson? In the film Marfan is mentioned- someone asks Vince’s character if he has it in a derogatory way. It was so out of left field and without any follow up, it felt like a bomb had been dropped without any explanation. I’m sure most of the audience didn’t even notice it, but those in the know were left wondering, wtf?!

    • admin says:

      Whoa! I haven’t seen the internship but I have to now! That is SO strange!
      Have you seen the movie Mo? It’s about Marfan syndrome. I haven’t seen it yet, but really want to. I should look it up now actually.
      I’m learning a lot from other’s with Marfan syndrome and it’s so great to hear other’s experiences. I need to look up some awareness events. Even if I decide not to talk about it on stage, I want to be more involved.

  12. Alicia says:

    Any material that comes from someone like you helps people. Whether it’s unicorns, squirrels, or Marfans, I just love that you are a hilarious woman comedian. I love comedy, and I love equality, and I’m sad there are not enough women comedians. And some of the ones I do find tell the same sexist jokes about women that men tell about women! I love that you’re different. Just be yourself and you will help many people. 🙂

    I just found you today because I’m a student at the UMN College of Design and they posted something about you on facebook. So I looked up your Last Comic Standing video and immediately thought you were wonderful!

    • admin says:

      Thank you! I just try to be me, and have as much fun as possible and I am glad other people think its funny! haha

      And no way that’s so cool! The U of M is awesome! Graphic design by chance? Steven McCarthy is still a good friend of mine, as is Brad Hokenson!

  13. John McKeegan says:

    Andy, it was nice to see you make it into the semi-finals. Congratulations.

    I have always been a bit of a non-conformist so it is no surprise to those that know me that I say to you,
    “No. Do not include Marfan in your routine…”

    But I am not just trying to be different or difficult so I will add,

    “…not yet.”

    I am thinking of this from the standpoint of the competition. You said in your post above that much of your humor is one-liners. Since Marfan is not well known, you would have to explain it to your audience and the set-up would take too long.

    I can, though, see a time when you are performing a one-hour set in front of a HUGE audience. That would be a great time to address Marfan awareness, perhaps point out the more obvious, or at least relatable, symptoms (height, lankiness, vision) and make jokes about those.

    In the meantime, though, you can still build your way into Marfan jokes by including more doctor’s jokes. (“Crying is the generic alternative” was great.) Or launch off of Marfan with some of your great word-smithing. (How about, “You might have noticed how long my arms are. It’s from a genetic condition. Yep, I was born with these long arms. That was really hard on my mother. I was born at 3:00 but my arms and hands didn’t come out until an hour later.” Or something like that.)

    And I appreciate that you are giving consideration to Marfan patients who have experienced some kind of tragedy. Of course, every joke (every statement) has the potential to hurt someone. It would be easy to then reason that you should just say what you want. I am glad you are not taking the easy route.

  14. Gwen says:

    I was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome 49 years ago at the age of 4. That was way before most people had even heard of the condition. I suffered in silence for most of my life because I had no one to relate to. I also had an exam room full of additional doctors, nurses and med students. I think it would be great to work Marfan into your routine tastefully. It just might keep someone else from suffering in silence.

    • admin says:

      I was the only person in my family with the disorder and felt alone and different too. I’m looking forward to sharing my story more and meeting more people with Marfan Syndrome!

  15. Abbie says:

    I think it would be an interesting topic for you to cover. I recently learned who you were through Last Comic Standing and immediately knew you were going to make it to the finals. I now consider myself a fan-how else would I have ended up on your site seeing as though I never heard of you?! I think you are seriously talented and the way you present yourself puts you in a unique position to be able to discuss more important topics from a unique and quirky perspective. Just like the political joke that you told on the show about the left wing and right wing, Norm at first didn’t really love that you had dipped into “darker” territories but Roseanne and Kennan both recognized that you had a great range that you could cover without being perceived as “leaving character.” I’m sure a lot of people who suffer from chronic and genetic disorders would love to have more representation through different mediums. They say laughter is the best medicine, you should dole our your meds to the world!

    • admin says:

      Thank you so much! Thank you for searching me out and writing such an insightful comment. I truly appreciate it! I Kind of like that some people like Norm don’t “get” me. Proof that i’m different! I’m looking forward to doing more with and for Marfan’s and have been so thrilled with the response from the community!!

  16. Laurie Swenson says:

    This is a very thoughtful, reasoned post with a lot of heart. Like a lot of comedians whose work I enjoy the most, you have plenty of serious and deep and meaningful layers.

    I like the notion that if you do start talking about Marfan Syndrome on stage, it will be a new thing rather than something that’s always been your shtick. I get the impression (not saying I’m right or anything; I’m all about being wrong! :)) that your health was a part of your life for a long time that was more serious, separate from the weird, fun life you live on stage, kind of like a plow horse who every once in a while gets to be a unicorn. 🙂

    I like the ways you think. I find you delightful on stage and sweet and fun off stage, and I find you really deep and insightful, in a powerful, thoughtful and simple way, when you write.

    Best of everything to you!

  17. Steve Koc says:

    Since you asked…I think you have done it all perfect up to this point so just keep on being true to yourself, whatever direction that takes you. So happy for your success on LCS, the star of the season in my opinion! Thank you for all the laughs

  18. Rachelle H. says:

    do it! I have it too!! It’s a funny thing yes-deadly at times but you have a venue most don’t and humor saves lives. Or helps deflect from real issues!! And you would spread awareness. I am a MAR-FAN. 🙂 and many other things. Would have made a killing in the circus-us bendy people-dang?? Missed my calling!!

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