Steve Mazan: Comedian’s David Letterman dream comes true

By | September 1, 2009 at 12:56 pm | 13 comments | Interviews, News | Tags: , , ,

Steve Mazan

Not even cancer can stop comedian Steve Mazan from achieving his goal of appearing on the Late Show With David Letterman.

Where does time go is the one question that even Alex Trebek, sometimes more condescending know-it-all than Jeopardy! answer man, can’t explain. Not surprising, because we tend to forget that time flies…without layovers and, more important, without a flight plan.

Even those lucky humans with jet packs cannot outrace time. Anyway, comedian Steve Mazan teaches us that urgency, way more than rocket fuel, may be the greatest catalyst of all in the race against time, a lifelong competition that people consider more of a marathon than a sprint, until time catches up to them, typically with disbelief and, worse, without warning.

His inspiring lesson about the power of perseverance culminates in New York City on Sept. 4 with the airing of his appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman. After more than four years of essentially auditioning for the show at comedy venues nationwide and overseas (he has performed for U.S. troops seven times in Iraq and Afghanistan) and through performances on the 20 DVDs he has sent to Letterman’s booker, Eddie Brill, over time, Mazan flew about five hours from California to New York on Aug. 30 to record one five-minute joke at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Aug. 31, fulfilling a dream that began in 2005 after his startling cancer diagnosis.

He missed his original deadline (by more than three years), “but obviously dreams you give extensions to, you make exceptions,” Mazan, a native Chicagoan, says from Los Angeles, his home base now.

Until February or March 2005 (unlike many other cancer patients and survivors, he does not recall his exact D-Day), Mazan, 37 and a comedian for 10 years now, had been climbing steadily toward Mt. Letterman, what he and multitudes of other contemporary comedians consider the summit of success. “I always thought it would happen,” he says confidently, not vainly, “but I wasn’t pursuing it. I was doing my sets, and getting noticed and figured at some point that I’d run into the right people. I wasn’t rushing it or anything.”

The process became a contest soon after the unexpected diagnosis. While heading home from performing one evening, he remembers telling fellow comedian Gary Cannon, “You’re going to have to drive.” That night Mazan went to bed in pain and awoke in agony. What he suspected to be appendicitis turned out to be a rare form of intestinal cancer that had spread to his liver.

“The doctors told us [Mazan and his wife, Denise], ‘Look, the tumors are slow-growing. If everything goes OK, you could still live 10 to 15 years with this.’ Worst-case scenario, of course we asked about that, and they said, ‘Five years.’ And I thought, Holy shit, five years! What if I die in five years, what do I want to accomplish?”

Suddenly, he had no time to saunter to the top of the profession, but comedy does not move at a panting pace. It takes years of writing and rewriting jokes and testing and retesting them in clubs and theaters for fun and maybe little profit to clamber even close to the pinnacle.

So after five months of recuperating from surgery and initial treatment, in an Internet instant, Mazan, who speaks hopefully and optimistically and works as if he were 100 percent healthy, created, a Web site that chronicled his circumstances and career and asked fans, friends, friends of fans, friends of friends and visitors to the site to petition Letterman to book him. At the beginning, he explains, he used the site as an accelerant “to get noticed by the Letterman people.”

But almost immediately, without being mean, he says that Brill basically told him that Letterman is not a fairy godfather. He does not grant wishes. “They actually sent me a cease-and-desist letter,” Mazan says, chuckling. “I was told I would have to earn my appearance.”

It took more than three years and hundreds of types of jokes to impress Brill. Mazan, who’s turning the quest into a documentary with the apt help of husband-and-wife filmmakers Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina of Joke Productions, finally did with a long gag about hotel access keys, the result of talent, commitment and that mandatory comic attribute: perfect timing.

About the Author

John Delery

John Delery has written thousands of articles and millions of words in his career, and still he has professional goals: He wants "Be honest with me, Doc: Will I ever tweet again?" to someday supplant "Take my wife...please" as the Great American punch line.

  • Lydia Nolan, Nolan Real Estate & Investments Group

    Wow. What line struck me was the one: “Letterman is not a fairy godfather,” frankly: I was NEVER impressed with Letterman, and I still am not…

    I was a singer when I was in high school, and wanted to attain my scholarship of traveling the world with the YOUNG AMERICANS. But I graduated at 16, and my mother would not let me.

    If I were in Steve Mazan’s shoes, I’d BEG FOR LENO! I LOVER Jay Leno, and HE would be the show I would want to be on. The attitude of Letterman, and many other historical bumps in his road, tells me he’s not the greatest guy…why do people like him? Beats me. But now, Jay LENO? HE’S the MAN!

  • John Kinard

    Very few people can I say I could get along with at first meeting. Steve is one of those few.
    Serving a few years with him while on the submarine service I can say that I never heard him complain or show any attitude of any kind after countless hours of work and drills and little to no sleep. He has always been a pleasure to be around. Always a stress free environment around Steve.

    Speaking for his fellow submariners I’d like to say that Steve has made us all very Proud. If anyone deserved it Steve you are him. You have shown us that if we want something bad enough that all we have to do is never say never, never give up and reach out and take it. Steve is truly an inspiration for us all.

    Good job mate. Looking forward to seeing more of your work in the times to come.

  • debem

    Great Job Steve …pursue your dreams everyone …you are only here for one blink in the eye of the universe! So if you are 18 or 88 DONT STOP going after your DREAM!

  • Cool Garden Things

    Awesome…very funny, and charming…thanks for the post!

  • matt

    love these stories; good for him!

  • Don Curl

    I love this guy!

  • katrina haynes

    this is all very touching, it’s great to see someone living their dream and he’s actually funny which is a plus!

  • Rose Haddix

    I commend Steve Mazan for following his dreams, in the face of overwhelming obstacles and Steve? Your life may be made shorter by cancer, but it was also definitely enriched. You had the foresight and the courage to see that, hats off to you buddy! Keep laughing and making others laugh and God Bless! Thanks for your talent, your gift. Rose Haddix.

  • Patty Foster


    I have to tell you I am so inspired by you.. you are absolutely hilarious. Like, tears rolling down my face hilarious! Seriously.

    I have to say, until I opened AOL today, I hadn’t heard your name before nor had I heard how funny you are.

    Your wife… she’s amazing.

    Your work in Iraq….. WOW! The faces of the soldier’s said it all. What a difference you made in their lives that day. It doesn’t escape me that you guys have something in common.

    I’d love to find a DVD of yours. If there’s one out there, I will do so. I’m going to read further and try to find your work. If you get the chance, would you please let me know what’s out there and where I can find it?

    Your bit about Rome cracked me up! So true, so obvious and I’ve never thought about it that way. That’s what I love about you… the winding roads, the truck in the tree. HILARIOUS!

    Just sent a prayer up for you. I believe that your positive outlook has more to do with your health than any CAT scan, MRI or knowledge the doctors give you.

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud. Belly laughs. Gotta love them!

    God bless you, Steve.

  • Steve Mazan

    Thanks to great comedian Tommy Johnagin for telling Punchline Magazine about me reaching my dream…and the magazine and John Delery for the great story.

    One small correction—I was driving home with best friend and comic Gary Cannon when I got sick–not Orny Adams. I’ve never been in a car with Orny. ha ha

    Thanks for all the nice comments


  • To Become a Comedian

    Its always great to hear when someone can overcome there challenges in their life and make their dreams come true. Great inspirational story! Great Job Steve!

  • Eddie Brill

    Steve Mazan worked his tail off. As a result, he got to fulfill his dream the best way possible. By earning it!
    And he was terrific.
    It is a heartwarming story and I was proud and touched to see him knock one out of the park on the Late Show!

  • Biagio Messina

    Biagio here! Thanks so much for covering Steve’s story. He’s amazing, and we’re so proud of him. It was an honor to document his journey these past four years, and the thrill of a lifetime to be with Steve when he performed his set on Letterman. We wrote a bit about our experience here:

    If anyone here at Punchline wants to contact us, feel free. We’d love to keep you up to date as we progress through the edit, and would be happy to get you some stills as well!

    Everyone, watch Steve on Letterman Friday Night!!!

    All the best,
    Joke Productions, Inc.
    Twitter: @jokeandbiagio

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