Local comedian Mike Irwin has given his time and shared his talents with dozens of aspiring comedians throughout the Capital Region, and now they are rallying around him to produce a comedy night on his behalf.
Two months ago Irwin, 47, was diagnosed with stage four bone cancer.
“The comedy community is amazing how they will pull together and support each other. It’s a rough business and you tend to get lost in the shuffle,” said Irwin’s wife, Esther.
Irwin, who has had a distinguished comedy career, has spent the last several years educating young comedians at the Comedy Works, now in downtown Albany.
“He took me under his wing and helped me become a funnier comedian and a better writer,” fellow comedian Aaron Ward said. “He is someone who, no matter how well or poorly you felt you did, he always found something positive to accentuate. To find a mentor like that is quite rare these days.”
Irwin has performed at more than 300 clubs and has been on national television. He’s written for nationally known comedians such as George Wallace, Jay Leno and Bill Maher.
“He’s helped a tremendous number of comedians get into clubs and helped further their career in show business,” Ward said. “That is rare.”
Another local comedian, Stephen Adiletta, 24, said he has known Irwin for about five years, since he took Irwin’s class at the Comedy Works when it was located on Route 9 in Bethlehem.
“He was kind of a mentor to us younger guys,” Adiletta said.
Erick James, 31, of Menands, said Irwin is the reason he went into comedy.
James received an engineering degree at RPI and then went on to Cambridge University and received a master’s degree in business administration. While working he sought a nighttime hobby and saw an advertisement for a comedy class taught by Irwin.
“Stand-up was always a fantasy for me,” James said. “I always thought if I won the lottery or something like that I’d be a comedian.”
At the conclusion of the six-week course, the graduates performed a real show at the Comedy Works, which is where James said he became addicted to stand-up. James said the class altered his career path.
“I tell Mike all the time and thank him, saying that he’s changed my life,” he said. “He’s always really bashful about it, like, ‘Oh, good to hear it.’ ”
After the class James started opening shows for Irwin.
“I’d go on like 10 minutes before the show to introduce Mike Irwin to a crowd gathered in like some barn in Schoharie,” James said.
James said Irwin’s five rules of comedy have put all his pupils above the pack when it comes to show business.
“We’ve developed such good habits regarding stand-up. I can’t tell you how fortunate we are to know him and have him as a mentor.”
Sylvia Snow, the current owner of the Fireside Restaurant, home of the Funny Farm in Broadalbin, said Irwin, who used to manage the Funny Farm, volunteered a lot of his time to perform stand-up for various benefits.
“He gave up his time to come in and help others and now he’s being repaid,” Snow said. “He was a big part of the Funny Farm and I hope to have him back again when he gets better.”
Esther Irwin said Mike faces a long road to full recovery. Irwin, who is in St. Mary’s Hospital, has undergone three extensive rounds of chemotherapy and has only been home seven of the last 60 days.
“His spirits are good. He’s quite a fighter despite this stuff,” Esther Irwin said. “We just thought it was a bad tooth so this was quite a shock.”
Esther Irwin said her husband’s cancer is in his jaw, throat, trachea and lymph nodes. His jaw has been partially removed and will probably need to be reconstructed.
“It’s a very aggressive cancer, but he’s relatively young and youth is on our side,” she said. “Stage four can be very daunting but our oncologist is very positive.”
Irwin said most of her husband’s comedy comes from his own life.
“We were joking with him, saying he can’t do anything about being overweight anymore because he’s lost 51 pounds,” she said.
Irwin has three biological children. Carter Sullivan-Irwin is 17 and his twin brothers, Chris and Connor, are 12. Esther Irwin also has a son, Jordon, 15, who thinks of Mike as a father.
“The younger kids are taking it hard,” she said. “There are a lot of tubes. … It’s been tough on the whole family.”
Irwin said the Amsterdam area community and comedy community have been helpful.
“We have been overwhelmed by the generosity … and how quickly people pulled together,” she said. “We’ve gotten beautiful cards from people that we don’t even know, but who have heard about us from friends.”
The local comedians are a pretty tight group, Adiletta said. When they heard about Irwin’s health problems they jumped at the chance to help.
“When this whole thing came up we wanted to get together and organize something and support him and do whatever we could to make it easier for him and his family,” he said.
Ward said when something happens to any comedian in the local circle it’s like the “comedic bat phone” is dialed and everyone is alerted to the situation.
“Mike really has brought so much laughter to the world and hopefully he can continue to do it,” James said. “We just want him to get better. We’re still booking shows for him, so he’s got to get better.”
The comedy show, which is produced by Irwin’s friend, Mike Mills at Mills Entertainment, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. June 14 at Proctors GE Theater. Tickets are $20 and are available at the Proctors box office.
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Categories: Schenectady County