Exclusive: Quincy Jones Talks Mesothelioma & Comedy

Comedian Quincy Jones on the Ellen DeGeneres Show

Standup comedian Quincy Jones lived his dream last week in Los Angeles.

Jones, 31, taped an hour-long standup comedy special that will air June 2 at 10 p.m. on HBO. He is living the wish he made after his 2015 peritoneal mesothelioma diagnosis.

It was the legacy he wanted to leave when he is gone — making others laugh.

Jones, not to be confused with the legendary music producer of the same name, has become an inspirational beacon of hope for mesothelioma patients and survivors everywhere today.

He has taken a grim prognosis of one year to live and turned it into an opportunity to inspire others. The stunning diagnosis of his stage IV mesothelioma may have sidetracked his budding comedic career, but he is using it in a positive way.

He made a wish and then worked to achieve what he wanted, raising the money to produce a television special and his profile by speaking openly about his plight, and then raising his comedic game to make it all work.

Comedian Quincy Jones was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and he wants to leave a legacy of laughter.

Question and Answer with Quincy Jones

Jones took time out of his busy schedule last week to chat with Asbestos.com.

Q: First off, how did it go, taping the comedy special? How difficult was it?

A: It went really well, as I expected. It’s something I’ve been preparing for throughout my career. I loved doing it. We did it all in one day. I was there from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. We had a great production team, and we knocked it out of the park. It was an amazing experience, an amazing feeling.

Q: You think people are going to really like it?

A: I hope so, I truly hope so. I was on the road for two weeks preparing for it, getting material, writing material, crafting material. I was ready.

Q: You were diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer with no cure. There’s nothing funny about that or any cancer. How did you make that work in a comedy special?

A: If you mean traditionally funny, no, it’s not. But you’ve got to be able to laugh at some things that aren’t traditionally funny. Life isn’t always Mickey Mouse cartoons and Disney World. You can’t always look for lighthearted stuff. Sometimes you have to make the dark stuff lighter, make it a little more palatable. So yes, we made jokes about my cancer.

Q: What kind of medical treatment have you been getting? And what are the doctors telling you?

A: Right now, I’m just doing chemotherapy. That’s the only treatment at this stage. I get it every three weeks. I’m on a maintenance schedule. I was getting heavier stuff before, but they put me on a lighter batch. It’s controlling the cancer, but not shrinking it.

Q: Can you explain how this whole comedy special came about?

A: I just decided I wanted to do a comedy special as my legacy. We opened a Kickstarter campaign to try and fund it. It went viral. It was unbelievable. My cousin reached out to the producers of the “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and they reached back. Ellen interviewed me on the show, and HBO bought it.

Q: Have you been surprised by all the notoriety and the way everything just took off?

A: I would like to think it’s because I was a good person who had cancer, not just because of the cancer. I didn’t make a cancer special. I made a special about a comic who has cancer. I hope people make that distinction. Cancer doesn’t ever define you. Cancer is just another adjustment you have to make. You have it, you acknowledge it, and you move on.

Q: I know you were already doing comedy, but is this hour-long comedy something you wanted to do before you were diagnosed?

A: No, No. Well, you dream of it one day, but once you get told you have cancer, a rare form with no cure, and they say you’re going to die within a year, you start thinking: Well, this is something I really want to do and get accomplished. If you put your mind to it, work hard, anything is possible.

Q: How would you describe your type of comedy and how did you develop your love for comedy?

A: I’d describe it as witty, observational, just off the cuff with a twist. I’m always leading you, misdirecting you someplace else. I always had the ability to make people laugh, and thought I could do it. I finally got into it full-time in 2010, and I’ve been going full-time ever since. I moved from Seattle to LA in January of 2012.

Q: Who are/were the comedians you admired most?

A: The legends obviously: Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, all those guys. Some of the new-school guys, too, like Rory Scovel, Nate Bargatze, Tony Baker. There is a long line of comedy, a long history.

Q: Did you know this quest was going to inspire others?

A: I never set out to be inspirational. I just set out to do what I thought anyone else would do, but not everyone has that mindset, that mentality. For me, it’s one day at a time, just being committed to fighting this [cancer]. I’m a firm believer in the mental aspect of trying to do that. I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to fight. You have to be mentally engaged to lock in on a fight like this.

Q: Are you still living life, booking new shows?

A: I live life now in three-week increments. I have a few more dates coming up, but the special we just did took all my attention. We have a few things lined up now at the Ontario Improv and the Hollywood Improv, stuff like that.

Q: Who do you really want to reach with this special?

A: I’ve dedicated it to anyone who had cancer, lost someone to cancer or is fighting cancer. I want to let people know that cancer doesn’t have to define you. I want to tell people that you have to continue living your life.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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