Dying to Do Letterman Chronicles the Journey of a Comedian Living With Cancer

Steve Mazan encourages others to chase their dreams, 'or die trying'

At age 35, ten years into his career, comedian Steve Mazan learned he had cancer and might have only five years to live.

“The doctors told us [Mazan and his wife Denise], ‘Look, the tumors are slow-growing,’ Steve 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?”

The comedian decided to shoot for the stars, and set a goal to achieve the dream he’d had since he was 12 years old: perform comedy on The Late Show With David Letterman. When some filmmaker friends asked what they could do to help their friend living with cancer, Steve decided to chronicle his journey.

Steve’s road to Letterman wasn’t easy. He began a campaign at dyingtodoletterman.com in 2005, encouraging friends, fans, and family to petition the show’s booker to consider him. The response was, “We don’t grant wishes.” Steve would have to earn his way onto the show like every other comedian, cancer or not — they weren’t concerned about his possible “deadline”.

Five years and nearly twenty audition tapes later, Steve was finally flying to New York City to film his coveted five-minute set on Letterman — earned by the merits of his comedic talent. He had outlived his worst prognosis and far surpassed his original goal. His filmmakers, husband-and-wife duo Joke Finocioen and Biagio Messina of Joke Productions, stuck around to document the whole journey.

The film is the inspiring, educational and entertaining account of a man living with cancer and his journey toward his dreams. Much of it is entertaining and hilarious, chronicling the unique work comics put in vying for the all-important TV spots. There are moments of vulnerability too, as Steve battles the realities of his disease. But, as the directors explain, “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.”

Through this documentary, Steve exemplifies his motto: Live your dream, or die trying. Can you think of a better way to spend the rest of your life?

The film was screened and well-received at festivals across the country, and now, you can buy the DVD from (the new) DyingToDoLetterman.com. Steve also brings cancer news, updates, and even some cancer humor on Twitter @cancerslam.

Read more from my review of the documentary for SF Weekly.

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