Tenafly resident Saranne Rothberg likes to say that she created the ComedyCures Foundation from her chemo infusion chair.
At the age of 35, she was a special education consultant, the mother of a 6-year-old, and newly diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It all “just seemed so scary and isolating,” Rothberg, who has been cancer-free since 2002, now says.
To combat her fears, she threw a chemo party for patients and staff at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, complete with favors, treats, sparkling cider and six hours’ worth of funny movies. Rothberg says that she and her fellow chemo patients “had so much fun laughing through what really was terrifying that I realized, Wow, this should be offered more often.”
She returned home, sick but determined to make the most of her epiphany. Drawing on her personal experiences, Rothberg mapped out her vision for a charity that would “bring therapeutic entertainment, joy, laughter and hope into the trenches of treatment.” Twenty-three years later, ComedyCures has lightened the burden of cancer for more than 1 million people across four continents. With Rothberg serving as founder, CEO and creative director, the organization has hosted over 1,900 programs, including performances, summits and workshops—plus a 24/7 LaughLine that lets callers hear and tell jokes.
Amy Schumer, Molly Shannon and Jim Gaffigan are among the hundreds of professional comedians who have contributed to the foundation’s programs over the years.
Last year, ComedyCures held a five-day Laughter Summit, which featured 24 comedic acts and 29 thought leaders from the realms of wellness, creativity, comedy and positive productivity. Fifteen live sessions offered comedy-based strategies to help patients cope with the emotional side effects of the disease, such as depression, anxiety and anger. A 31-day Tumor Humor Challenge followed in October in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The challenge was to find the humor in cancer with jokes and memes.
ComedyCures is expected to roll out its first podcast this summer. Meanwhile, the foundation’s first research study yielded positive results. “Mindset & Metastatic Cancer,” conducted in 2021, asked users of a daily app to incorporate ComedyCures videos promoting laughter and well-being techniques. Findings from the eight-week study were encouraging: participants showed a 15.1 percent decrease in perceived stress and an 18.1 percent decrease in perceived depression. A second, similar study will be conducted later this year.
“We’re onto something that’s really cool,” Rothberg says—an apt summation of ComedyCures.
The ComedyCures Foundation was founded in 1999 by Saranne Rothberg to bring joy, hope and laughter to cancer patients and others suffering from serious illness, as well as their families, caregivers and health care providers, through live and digital therapeutic entertainment programs. Visit comedycures.org for more information, to donate and to sponsor patient/caregiver programs and research. Call the 24/7 Laugh Line at 888-424-2424 to hear or tell a joke.