EVEN in his darkest hour, Michael Shafar still saw the funny side to losing a bollock to testicular cancer – “I finally feel comfortable in skinny jeans”.
Diagnosed in 2017, the Aussie comic underwent chemotherapy and several rounds of surgery. He got the all clear, but relapsed in 2020 and had more chemo and went under the knife again.
With all that medical drama and Covid to boot, many would have crawled under a rock and hid away from life.
But like all good comics, Shafar used personal trauma to his advantage and started tackling bigger and more edgy topics in his stand-up.
“Cancer did change my approach to comedy,” he says.
“I was talking about it on stage and I realised it was really fun talking about a dark topic like cancer because it created tension in the crowd.
“That’s why I now quite deliberately talk about controversial topics like abortion, Kanye West and which religion is correct.
“It’s fun watching crowds think: ‘How is he going to pull a laugh out of this?’”.
A few years back, Shafar quit his job as a lawyer to pursue his dream of being a stand-up (he’s jokingly promised to pay back all the money his “Jewish mother” spent on his education).
But she needn’t worry, his edgy shows have gone down well with audiences and he’s appeared on national TV shows including The Project, Studio 10, Comedy Bites and RAW Comedy.
His latest critically-acclaimed show 110% is not afraid to tackle some big issues including racism, climate change, anti-semitism and also the more prosaic – How do you teach a baby boomer to use an Apple TV remote? There’s also a bizarre story about how he went “viral” in China as part of a fake anti-vax scandal (if you Google “prosthetic arm anti-vaxxer” he’s one of the top results).
“I mostly just read the opinions of idiots on the internet and respond to that in my show,” Shafar says. “When the trailer for the new Little Mermaid movie came out people on the internet completely lost their minds that the mermaid was black.
“They were like: ‘This makes no sense from an evolutionary perspective! You need to be exposed to sunlight to develop black skin, and she’s at the bottom of the ocean! How is she black?!’ I was like: ‘How is she a mermaid?’ I don’t think Charles Darwin was consulted on the plot.”
With a law degree under his belt, Shafar is clearly a bit of a clever clogs, so does he think comedy can be funny and educational at the same time?
“I do think that comedy can educate and impact people’s beliefs to some degree,” he says.
“I guess that’s why people care so much about what comedians say on stage and why so many comedians get in trouble or ‘cancelled’ over their jokes. But, let’s be honest, most comedians are absolute trainwrecks of human beings and none of what they say should carry any weight. Listen to Joe Rogan for entertainment, not for the news.”
Inspired by fellow comics on the Aussie comedy circuit like Daniel Muggleton and Daniel Connell, as well as legends of the craft like Jerry Seinfeld, Shafar has received good reviews for walking a tightrope between edgy and offensive. But forget about the critical praise – all that matters is his oncologist laughed at his gags.
“After watching my show he had to rush off (probably to save a life or something) and I assumed he didn’t like the show,” Shafar says. “But, the next day he sent me an email that just said: ‘Great show, Michael. You were well worth the chemo.’ So that’s a pretty good review.”
Shafar is performing 110% in WA as part of the Fringe World festival in Perth from January 20 – February 5. Tix at fringeworld.com.au
by STEPHEN POLLOCK