“It’s hard to do stand-up when you can’t stand up!”
So says funnyman
Mike Dillon, making light of being in a wheelchair for nearly four years due to complications from diabetes.
A comedian and comedy producer for more than a dozen years and a comedy club owner for 15 years,
Dillon knows what’s funny —and what’s not.
Start-up to Stand-up
“I started doing stand-up back in 2000 to tackle my biggest fear—speaking in front of a crowd,” Dillon says. “It took 200 times on stage before I truly felt comfortable. But then it clicked and performing finally gave me confidence and eliminated my anxiety of public speaking.”
Dillon quit his day job in 2009, retiring from the U.S. Postal Service after 30 years. But before that, he’d already put his second career in motion.
“Even before I left the post office, I started taking acting lessons and doing comedy. I did stand-up at the Borgata in Atlantic City and in clubs throughout the Northeast. I got a role in Boardwalk Empire and… 30 Rock, and on truTV,” Dillon says.
Along with acting and stand-up, Dillon also began producing comedy shows near his home in Medford, New York. Right around that time, Dillon was also diagnosed with diabetes, and he unfortunately let the disease take a back seat to his work and budding careers.
At the time, Dillon was 284 pounds and not in good physical shape, but an incident in acting class was the impetus for getting serious about his health.
“I was at a very exclusive acting class in New York City, and my coach, JoAnna Beckson, asked me to play the part of a patient undergoing liposuction. The embarrassment of being seen as someone who could need that type of surgery propelled me to get healthy.”
Dillon says he committed himself to losing weight and set a goal to get down to 150 pounds. By exercising and playing a lot of tennis, walking, and running, Dillon says he got close to his goal a few years later.
“I was a few pounds shy of my goal when I went in for the operation to have the lower part of my leg removed. Lo and behold, the next day I was 150 pounds,” he quips, adding, “You just can’t make this stuff up!”
While Dillon may make a joke of his situation, he’s now serious about treating his disease.
“Diabetes is not something to mess around with,” Dillon cautions. “When I finally decided to take steps to prevent the disease from progressing, it was too late; the damage was done.”
Dillon dealt with serious health issues from 2011 to 2014. Gangrene from the diabetes led to the loss of one toe, then the rest of the toes on his left foot. Then an accident involving his right foot caused an infection that led to its amputation as well as ultimately his lower leg below the knee.
With more than five dozen surgeries to date, Dillon acknowledges the range of emotions he’s felt and notes how, for him, laughter was, is, and always has been great medicine.
“It’s not the best medicine,” jokes Dillon, “but as part of a health plan that includes cholesterol- and sugar-reducing medications, exercising, and eating right, laughter is great for the psyche and helps the spirit.”
He continues: “Once comedy is in your system, it’s hard to walk away from it. I performed on crutches and in a wheelchair. I have also produced shows from my hospital bed.”
As Dillon’s health worsened, his desire to perform also waned, and last year, after entertaining crowds for 14 years, Dillon retired from stand-up. Instead, he’s focused on producing shows for other comedians, as well as at the Gateway Comedy Club (www.gatewaycomedy.com) in Ronkonkoma, New York, which he’s owned for the past 15 years.
“Along with losing my leg, I also lost my dream of ‘making it’ as a performer. I now concentrate on helping others achieve their dreams,” he says. “Producing comedy shows keeps me involved and is my way of giving back to comedy. It’s an outlet for my creativity and makes me feel good. But more than that, whether I’m performing or producing, I always got a kick out of a laughing audience, and they always laugh for me and leave the club happier and better than they came in. It’s my little way to give back to the world.”
Another thing that came from Dillon’s experience was the creation of “Crippling Comedy,” a show he conceived two years ago to feature various physically challenged comedians.
Noting the politically incorrect name, Dillon explains, “I have no problem with people calling me a cripple, handicapped, disabled, or any other label. The participants agreed that it was a good name, so we went with it.”
Creating a comedic venue for his fellow differently abled comedians is something Dillon hopes to replicate in the future with more participants and perhaps a sponsor.
“The routines were funny, and we sold out the show,” recalls Dillon. “That tells me the public wants more.”
— WORDS Amy Di Leo, MS
Dillon says his faith in God, his family, and many doses of laughter have helped him overcome the challenges in his life.
Image by John Blenn.