BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer
In 2001, at the tender age of 20 Brian Lobel was diagnosed with testicular cancer…
Unexpected, quirky and provocative, BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer is a unique, 70-minute stage performance about illness and the changing body over time. The show brings together Brian’s trilogy of work about his experiences with cancer (written between 2001 and 2011); challenging the stories of cancer survivors and cancer martyrs that have come before and infusing the “cancer story” with an urgency and humour which is sometimes inappropriate, often salacious and always, above all else, honest and open.
The final piece of BALL & Other Funny Stories, entitled An Appreciation, is a 10-minute, standalone cabaret piece which has been performed over 300 times internationally, and written about extensively in various media.
Starting from the moment of diagnosis, BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer goes beyond stories of medical treatment to explore sexuality, gender and politics. Each of the three performances has toured independently throughout the world to theatres, cabarets, medical schools and galleries. In pulling the three shows together as one, BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer attempts to show that surviving cancer is only half the battle.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to perform a self-exam.
The full, unedited scripts of BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer are available, with an introduction by Oberon Books.
Please note that all of Brian’s cancer-related projects are now currently housed under FUN WITH CANCER PATIENTS.
“very funny… but it’s also tender and raw” Exeunt Magazine
“If you’ve had cancer, you’ll be laughing all the way through. If you haven’t, you’ll feel a bit weird. But if you are in the latter camp, take note. Shit, it could be you.” Disability Arts Online
“The performance is stellar… we feel like we are one of his friends and it is difficult not to respond to Lobel’s warmth.” Manchurian Matters
“Moving, brutally honest but above all extremely funny…” Cambridge News
For current tour dates please see the Dates page.
Previous tour date include: New York Academy of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Outburst Festival, Belfast; ArtsAdmin, London (10th Anniversary Show); Dave’s Comedy Festival, Leicester; Glamorgan University, Cardiff; Contact, Manchester; Camden People’s Theatre, London; Marlborough Theatre, Brighton; Edinburgh Science Festival, Edinburgh;The Junction, Cambridge; DaDa Festival, Liverpool; Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester. The 2012 tour was supported by Arts Council England.
If you are a promoter and would like to book this show please contact Brian.
An excerpt from BALL (2006) – Part I of III
An excerpt from An Appreciation (2010) – Part III of III
Response to Lance Armstrong’s 2013 doping confession:
In 2002, on the day after I finished my stem cell transplant, there happened to be a Stem Cell Transplant Patient Reunion at IUPUI (Indiana University – Purdue University of Indianapolis), the hospital where I was treated and which Lance Armstrong had also been treated in the years before. This was in the middle of his series of Tour de France wins and the pressure loomed large: throughout my treatment I was given multiple copies of “It’s Not About the Bike” and people constantly reminded me of his victory, his fertility and his overall inspiration. He was always an awkward role model for people to mention to me: I’m not athletic, I have no desire to be athletic, and while I love my bicycle, Vera, it’s only with a non-competitive energy that I ride.
As the monologue below (written on the flight home after stem cell transplantation, July 2002) can attest to, I have always believed that Lance Armstrong’s greatest legacy will be the increase of pressure placed on cancer survivors to be bigger, stronger, more inspiring creatures. This has always been an unfair pressure placed on those with cancer or, in fact, on any person who is seen needing to ‘overcome the odds’. We do not need to be bigger, we do not need to be stronger, we do not need to be more inspiring: what we need is for YOU not to be so uncomfortable talking about illness. What we need is for YOU to allow us time to re-enter the world after treatment. What we need is for YOU to accept that some of us died and that it sucks, and that many others deal with financial hardship, drug dependence, post-traumatic stress, depression or strained relationships as a result of a major illness. And finally, what we need is for YOU not to live in the delusion that if you get cancer, your totally aggressive energies will guarantee your survival (especially if you don’t have access to health care and some good good luck).
Lance’s doping to me has always been irrelevant. His legacy – in part his fault, in part the fault of others who used his story as fodder for inspiration-based fundraising – will always be this horrifying pressure placed on anyone whose body is inconvenient to nondisabled or normative bodies. We need to leave space in this world for people who don’t live, or who don’t, can’t or won’t live strong after an illness. We do not need to live strong, we just need to live on our own terms.
Brian Lobel, January 2013
From the ending of BALL (Originally produced in 2003)
(Brian enters dressed in bicycle shorts and a Lance Armstrong bicycle jersey)
But what do I win? Lance Armstrong got the Tour De France, speaking gigs and a ghost writer named Sally Jenkins (who I’m pretty sure never had testicular cancer…), everyone else gets all this wisdom and depth that only derive from cancer, and what do I get? If I wasn’t going to become a better person because of all of those procedures then I sure as hell better win some kind of competition.
Competition. I need to be a hero. A role model. A SURVIVOR! I was actually considering sports which I hadn’t done since my leg surgery in fourth grade. And, P.S., I still hate sports. I still hate to compete. Maybe ballroom dancing. Yeah, ballroom dance is going to become an Olympic sport. I dance. I have nice posture. Ooh, cancer survivor turned Olympic gold medalist – that would definitely make the ticker on CNN. Cancer survivor turned Olympic gold medalist – hah, not even Lance Armstrong has an Olympic gold medal! You can’t just survive cancer anymore. I know that I will never be the best role model or ideal survivor – but I will die trying.
July 1st, 2002. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hospital Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic. For all of my doctors and nurses a chance to reflect, to reunite with their former patients, and to share in the blessings of life, family, and community. I was three days finished with my stem cell transplantation process, and ready to kick some ass. The day was bright and sunny – as saccharine-sweet and sentimental as the day of any cancer- survivor picnic should be. We all gathered in the park – about five miles from the Indianapolis Speedway – and we celebrated. We celebrated living. (‘Celebration’ plays.)
The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hospital Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic Hula
Hoop Contest. For the kids. Eight unironic, cute little daughters of stem cell transplant patients (who I’m sure were once upon a time frozen at International Cryogenics Incorporated) versus Brian Lobel, the world’s most competitive cancer survivor. A race to the finish, a fight to the death. Winner take all – a Coleman folding lawn chair. They were nothing. The world needed to see who the real cancer survivor turned hula hoop champion was…and so, I hula-d. (Brian begins to hula.)
If it was a title that Lance Armstrong would never hold, I would hold it, and so I focused, intensely, passionately… (Brian focuses solely on hula-hooping silently for about twenty seconds after which ‘Celebration’ fades. Brian continues to hula.)
My hips began to twirl on their own and my mind began to flash back over the last eight months…boring, endless, depressing, near defeating… The support, the love, the compassion… The hundreds of people who didn’t make mention in this cancer story because they were beautiful, and perfect, and caring, and kind.
Most of the crap that I hate about cancer is story after story after story about people supporting and loving each other with cancer. But I think that’s because, to me, it all seems so obvious. But I do feel indebted to those people. Even those people who said obscene things to me like ‘But thank God you have a good cancer’ or ‘Your spirit will get you through it,’ had enough love in their hearts to attempt to connect with me because they cared. Regardless of the fucked up way they demonstrated their compassion. They supported me enough so that I could survive cancer and write a story about balls, tubes and masturbation. I’m sure they’re proud. I thought of my parents, my family, my doctors and my cohort in struggle…if there were words to describe them or the love I feel towards them, I would share those words with you. Everyone should experience even a little bit of that love in their life…
FOCUS BRIAN. DAMMIT. Don’t give in to that mushy, sentimental bullshit. You’ve got a match to win. The DJ spoke over the microphone. ‘OK girls, um, and boy. You’re doing great out there. Now it’s time to take a big step to your right.’ DON’T FALL BRIAN. STAY UP, STAY FOCUSED. (Brian steps to the right.) Four girls lost their hula hoops when they stepped to the right, but mine stayed snugly around my hips…and again my mind began to wander…
Eight months. Gone. Like that. One day, I was studying and living and dancing and hugging and experiencing, and then cancer. The path back to normalcy would be a long and tedious one. I could see years into the future and see how my scars still haunt me, how the smell of saline still reminds me of the hospital, and how people consistently wonder at my healthy appearance and comment, ‘You look so good, Brian,’ thereby never allowing me to forget how sick I really was, and how much everyone around me worried.
‘Are you training for the Tour de France?’ ‘How’s the cycling going?’ ‘Hey Brian, where’s your bike?!’ Actual jokes, challenges… Well, what was I going to accomplish with my new lease on life? I felt the need to compete, to succeed, and to become this ideal cancer survivor that gets so so so much wisdom. Take my wisdom! Just give me eight months back! I want to be able to walk down the street without thinking Oh, don’t die now, Brian, that would be really uninspiring to everyone, and I want to be able to look at a pimple on my body and not think it’s a melanoma. I did not realise this was a life sentence.
BRIAN. BRIAN. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? FOCUS!!!
Another girl down, and then there were three. I looked into their devil eyes, and saw straight into their struggle- free life. Ooh, how nice. How cute. As I instilled the fear of God into their eyes, their hula hoops soon followed suit and fell with perfect synchronicity. And then there was one. ‘OK you two…now let’s see you clap those hands.’
WIN. CLAP. CLAP. WIN. CLAP.
(As he stands and claps a projection reveals a real picture of Brian, hula hooping at the IUPUI Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic in 2002. He is extremely thin and pale, and exerts real effort.)
WIN BRIAN. CLAP. WIN. CLAP. WIN. And then it happened, I let go. Not of my hula hoop, which was still twirling with ease around my body, but of my drive to be something that I wasn’t. I wasn’t someone who would let my life be defined by my illness. If cancer didn’t define who I was, then the pressure of Lance Armstrong-like success or masculinity would never even apply. I would never be Lance Armstrong. I would never be an athlete or a competitor, or an inspirational speaker. I would just be me. And that was, surprisingly OK. It’s weird, as soon as I let go, my life became simpler, less complicated somehow. I was going to live for me, for Brian Lobel as I really was – quirky, awkward, unathletic, unmasculine (Brian looks down and considers.) sexy-as-hell One Ball Lobel — and I was happy.
(Hula hoop falls.) And it fell. My hula hoop fell. What? That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to be victorious. I was supposed to learn to love myself and to learn that winning doesn’t matter, and then I was supposed to win anyway. That’s how it ends, right? I don’t win and
I don’t die? What? I competed, I tried, and I failed. And I guess that’s me.
I sulked back, completely unsettled, to the picnic table. Where would I go from here? Where does anyone go from here? The DJ came over to whisper something in my ear. The little girl who won the hula hoop contest didn’t clap her hands, and was disqualified. I won. (The news sets in slowly.) The eight-year-old girl who won the hula hoop contest forgot to clap her hands. I won. That cheating, lying, eight-year-old bitch who stole the hula hoop championship from me forgot to clap her fucking hands. (Brian brings the Coleman folding lawn chair and sits center stage.) And so, the 2002 Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hospital Stem Cell Transplant Reunion Picnic Hula Hoop Championship was won by Brian Lobel, by default. And that’s good enough for me. (Pause, he basks.) I don’t know what’s better, beating cancer or beating an eight-year-old girl in a hula hoop contest…
(Blackout. ‘We Are the Champions’ plays. The End.)