March 30, 2011 at 8:19 am , by Amelia Harnish
First, Pam Murphy was a comedian. Then she got breast cancer. Now she’s merged the two for a one-woman comedy show about her life as a cancer survivor. Since opening last October at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (founded by Amy Poehler and friends) in New York City, Time Out New York named it the best solo show of 2010.
“The C Word” is only a half-hour long, but Murphy packs in more than a handful of hilarious characters drawn from her experience: the stoic doctor who lays out her treatment plan like a high-school football coach with a dry erase board. The friend who won’t shut up about the miracle “cure” she found on the Internet. The subway rider who refuses to give up her seat for the bald lady. And of course, the friend who tries to relate but just can’t—“My aunt had breast cancer. Well, she wasn’t really my aunt, but she was so close to my mom we called her my aunt, you know? We never saw her during her chemo. It was awful. But anyway, what I’m saying is, I totally get it.”
She also makes fun of herself, playing a counselor who develops a tailored coping plan just for her: “You’ll be able to lie around, eat a bunch of crap, watch TV, wallow in self pity and everyone you know is going to think that you are a brave little soldier, so that’s a win, win, win, win, win!” Also, check out this scene where she portrays a first date after breast cancer for another hilarious example.
“I don’t portray myself in the best light, either, because I didn’t write the show to say, ‘Look at me, I’m such a brave person,’” she says. “I just wanted to say, look, this experience sucks. Let’s talk about it.”
Murphy was aiming for honesty, and she totally nailed it, while still managing to get lots of laughs. She skipped the soul-searching and just focused on the reality—breast cancer isn’t fun. But she made it through, and now she’s making it funny.
Right now she’s doing two shows in Los Angeles at the UCB Theatre in Hollywood, and she’ll be back in New York City for two shows in April. But stay tuned because the show might be coming to a college near you very soon. Pam says she’s in the process of booking a tour of campuses across the country.
Read on for more of my talk with Murphy about her bout with breast cancer, why she decided to write about it and what she wants other survivors to know.