The only thing comedy and cancer have in common is that they both start with the letter “C”. There’s nothing funny about the latter, and if you practice the former, you’d do well not to poke fun at the dreaded disease. Unless of course you happen to have it.
Enter LA-based stand-up comic and America’s Got Talent vet Alex Hooper, whose August diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma served as the starting point for all sorts of jokes about his unenviable situation. Hooper — a popular fixture on the city’s comedy scene, known for his outrageous antics, gravity-defying bright red hair, and unabashed ability to roast anyone in seconds — continued to perform on location, even while he was in the midst of chemotherapy stuck .
With supernatural positivity and boundless love for his fellow comedians, family and audiences, Hooper has managed to turn cancer into a punchline and inspire his fans to appreciate life.
During a recent show at Club Tee Gee in Atwater Village (not long after his third round of treatment), Hooper began his set by updating the audience on his battle with cancer, noting, “I’m going to spend the next few minutes doing something so hilarious because that’s how I deal with things I’m scared of – I make fun of them until they go away. So just be aware, if you’re not laughing at this material, you’re actively killing me.”
The muffled silence that enveloped the audience after Hooper’s initial revelation dissolved into a roar of laughter. Now in the audience’s good graces, he went on to joke about how he received his diagnosis right after marrying his girlfriend of 15 years.
“So to every single guy with a wrong hat that would look at me and be like, ‘Don’t do it bro,’ I get it now,” he jokes.
Hooper, 37, was born in Baltimore, went to college in Pittsburgh and moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to pursue an acting career. Six months after his arrival, a friend offered him a spot at what is now the Spotlight Comedy Club in Studio City. Up until that moment, Hooper hadn’t even considered trying stand-up comedy.
As he walked offstage after the six-minute set, he recalls thinking, “This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life — this sense of vulnerability and immediacy.”
Those two feelings also come with a cancer diagnosis, Hooper notes during an interview at Pan Pacific Park, where the active, health-conscious performer often practices his balance on a slackline. Hooper now channels those same feelings in the service of healing through his chosen art form.
“I never feel more alive than when I’m on stage,” says Hooper. “When I tell a really dark joke about chemotherapy and the whole room bursts out laughing and we can all sit here and have that moment, I can literally feel cancer cells inside me breaking down.”
Fellow comedians have noted Hooper’s penchant for filling his body with positivity to shut out the negativity of illness. And for those who know him best, it’s not surprising.
“He took lemons and made lemonade out of them. He made it into a lemon meringue pie. He turned it into lemon bars. He turned it into lemon popsicles,” says Shawn Pelofsky, who improv runs a monthly show called Social Media Meltdowns, which Hooper is a regular performer on. “I’ve never seen a warrior like Alex.”
Hooper is a somewhat paradoxical character in the comedy because, as he himself puts it, “he’s a magical goblin who sheds tears of joy” wherever he goes; At the same time, he was best known for eviscerating Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Mel B. of the Spice Girls during an appearance on America’s Got Talent in 2018.
Hooper wore sparkly skintight blue trousers, a fluffy matching tail and a long-sleeved maroon leotard with a fur-lined collar – Hooper roasted the famous judges and told the English singer that the only thing scary about her was her solo career, and that grumpy British record executive that America was formed to get away from Brits like him.
The live audience seemed horrified throughout the three-minute segment, and Hooper says he was certain at the time that he had bombed in the most tragic way. The episode took 2½ months to air, a time Hooper remembers as “absolute hell… where every single minute I go, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, what have I done? What have I done?'”
But then it aired and was edited to make Hooper celebrate his roast. Hooper’s profile as a comedian skyrocketed after his national television debut. He was then working in ticket sales at Universal Studios (a job he’s held since arriving in LA), and tourists were beginning to recognize him.
“People would be so excited. They wanted to take photos. They say, “What are you doing here?” And I’m like, ‘Oh, you don’t know we don’t get paid for this show?'” jokes Hooper, adding that the answer would inevitably be. “But you’re on TV!”
To which he would reply, “Not at the moment, I’m not. I’ll sell you a ticket.”
Hooper was so successful in variety competition that he made two more appearances, in a season 15 audition just as the 2020 pandemic hit, and later that year as a quarterfinalist.
Hooper’s gift for toasting, like his ability to find a silver lining in his cancer diagnosis, likely stems from his boundless capacity for love, his friends say.
Brian Moses, who co-created the Comedy Central series Roast Battle with Jeff Ross, calls Hooper “the nicest guy in town” and says his ability to become a “destroyer” on early Roast Battle shows even Hooper caught off guard.
“Before, he was like this happy guy talking about his boobs and his wife,” says Moses, but through the roasting Hooper gained attention as a performer and he found his natural voice.
Moses says the mantra of professional roasters is only roast those you love.
“That’s mostly it — being able to give a secret compliment to someone you really appreciate, admire, or love,” says Moses. “And I think Alex really picked up that head and said, ‘I love everyone. I will talk about everyone.
That love returned to Hooper in full force when, in late August, he shared his diagnosis with the world via a YouTube video that has since garnered nearly 5,000 views. After Hooper posted the video, he says he experienced what his wife Lauren Tassi called a “vulnerability hangover.”
“You completely expose yourself. And suddenly you wish you hadn’t because you realize how naked you are,” Hooper says, recalling putting his phone down immediately after posting and not being able to pick it up for three hours while he was angry.
But when he finally did, he had hundreds of messages. Over the next few days, that number grew to over 1,000. A later GoFundMe initiative started by his sister-in-law to help with medical expenses has already raised $33,000 from a $50,000 goal.
That response floored and humbled Hooper, who isn’t used to — or comfortable with — stopping to rest or accepting help from others. Now he has to allow himself both.
Hooper’s prognosis is good. Hodgkin lymphoma is known for being treatable, particularly because it tends to strike people in their 20s and 30s — relatively young and healthy, with bodies equipped for battle.
Hooper’s wife recently reminded him that one day he will be out of cancer and he needs to think about his next chapter. Hooper was already a step ahead of her.
“I want to go straight out of the chemo ward and into a special ward,” he jokes before pausing to think. He and his wife want to start a family and he has so much to look forward to.
“If I want to be the best person I can be, not just for myself but for my loved ones, I need to learn how to relax,” he says. “Yes, I can be ambitious. Yes, I can now write screenplays. And I can set myself up and shoot videos. But the most important thing is to just relax and allow my body to do what it needs to do.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-11-21/comedian-alex-hooper-fights-cancer-with-humor-and-grace-onstage-and-off How does ‘magical sprite’ comedian Alex Hooper fight cancer? One punchline at a time