EVEN in his darkest hour, Michael Shafar was still seeing 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 spent on his education by his “Jewish mother”).
But she needn’t worry, his edgy routines 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% tackles some big issues including racism, climate change and anti-semitism, as well as 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,” 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 and five star reviews in the media – all that matters is his oncologist liked his gags.
“He came to see my show at the Melbourne Comedy Festival with a bunch of colleagues,” Shafar says.
“I was nervous because I really had to be funny that night, considering all the resources that went into saving me. I really didn’t want to bomb and have him be like: ‘Damn. He wasn’t worth saving.’
“After the show he had to rush off (probably to save a life or something) and I assumed he didn’t like the show.
“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.”
After his shows in WA were rescheduled five times because of covid (Shafar was starting to think Mark McGowan didn’t like him) he’s finally performing 110% at the Fremantle Comedy Factory, William Street, on February 3-4 and at Fringe World festival in Perth From Jan 20 – Feb 5.
Tix at fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/110-michael-shafar-fw2023
by STEPHEN POLLOCK