| Microphone in hand, in front of an audience of 300, writer and comedian Charleen Earley was poking fun at herself.
"I lost 37 pounds last year," she said in a tone that had her audience believing she was about to reveal a personal triumph. The crowd, made up largely of women, kindly applauded her.
"But I found them this year," she joked. "They were hiding at the Macaroni Grill."
Earley, who co-founded a comedy night to benefit the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition with Danville's Stacey Hartmann, will perform tomorrow night, July 14, at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts.
Local celebrity comedian Brian Copeland, widely known for his act "Not a Genuine Black Man," the longest running one-man show at San Francisco's Marsh Theater, will keep the laughter rolling along with radio and television personality Chicago Steve Barkley, said Hartmann.
Cancer, of course, is the farthest thing from funny. But that doesn't mean fundraising for it can't be.
"Laughter's good for you," said Hartmann, a survivor of ovarian cancer. "A sense of humor is so vital to getting through life."
"Comedy is escapism; you get to leave your troubles behind for a night," Earley added.
The goal in rounding up the comedy was to get a variety of styles to cover a wide range of preferences, Hartmann said. Comedic subjects will range from race and class to parenthood and being single.
"We know everybody's taste in comedy is different," said Hartmann.
Hartmann and Earley have been putting together the comedy night for cancer for the last seven years to raise money for the San Francisco chapter of National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Last year, the duo had to transfer the event from the Danville's Village Theatre to the larger Walnut Creek venue because of its growing popularity.
"We've been astonished at the success of the show," said Hartmann, who is the Town of Danville's media specialist.
Earley will host the show and kick off the performance this year with a brief standup routine. Like so many comedians, she is hesitant to put a label on her style of comedy. But coming from a Latino background, working as a reporter, and living life as a single mother lends her a lot of material, she said.
"She's sweet and feminine and she pokes fun at her Mexican heritage," Hartmann explained.
While the event's popularity is expanding, the comedy night for cancer, now a smash hit in the East Bay, wasn't always such a success. The first show in 2001 was essentially a flop, Hartmann remembered.
The act was set up at Los Positas College, where construction kept ticket buyers from finding the theater. Only about 30 people showed up.
"People had a hard time getting there. The room wasn't big enough and the lighting was poor," Hartmann recalled.
Since then, the acts has gotten progressively better, Hartmann said. And last year the event raised $5,000 to fund distributing information at fairs and to pay for programs in the Bay Area.
"Every year I'm convinced I have the best year ever, then Charleen pulls in more talented comedians through her charming personality," Hartmann said.
Seven years ago, when Hartmann was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she and Earley, a freelance writer, were just acquaintances working for the same magazine. They got closer after her diagnosis and Hartmann remembers that Earley helped keep her spirits up when she was going through rehabilitation.
"She stuck by me and kept me laughing," she said.
"Comedy cures," Earley said, noting studies that show laughter creates endorphins, a biochemical compound that produces a sense of well being.
To catch ovarian cancer in its early stages, women should be aware of bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urgent or frequent urination. Funds this year will go to distributing educational and preventative materials.
Tickets to the comedy event are $35; call 943-SHOW (943-7469).
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