Mike DeStefano died Sunday night. I never met him, but I wish I had. I first heard him on The Moth storytelling podcast. Mike had a couple stories on there that I remember. He had one that really stuck with me. It was about how he was visiting his wife in hospice. They were both HIV positive, but hers turned into full blown AIDS and she was dying. He ended up buying a motorcycle and took her for one last ride. It was such an inspiring story about living life to its fullest all the way up to the end. It was a story about love. It was a story about saying goodbye. It was a story that touched me. At the end of the stories on the Moth, the host Dan Kennedy comes on and gives a little bio about the speaker. He said that Mike DeStefano was a comedian living in New York. I had a feeling he would be the kind of comedian that I respected and strived to be more like. I had a feeling his comedy was raw, original and honest.
It wasn’t until about a year later when Marc Maron interviewed Mike on the WTF Podcast that I really sought out his work. I was glad that the same story touched Marc like it touched me. It’s a powerful story that even paraphrasing it for Christine one night brought tears to her eyes. In the interview, Mike explained how he became a comedian. He was giving AIDS awareness lectures. When people would ask silly questions, he’d give silly answers. “Can I get AIDS from my dentist?” “Only if your dentist is fucking you in the ass.” I found out Mike had been on Last Comic Standing. To me, that didn’t bring legitimacy to Mike. Mike brought legitimacy to what is essentially a game show. Mike DeStefano was the real deal.
This time I wrote a note reminding myself that I wanted to research Mike’s work and see what I could find. I ended up downloading his CD “OK Karma” off iTunes. Much like the performer himself, the CD is raw and rough around the edges. He has moments where he rants and it doesn’t really hit strong with the audience. He wraps up that rant with announcing that what the audience is just heard is going on the CD. It’s a real moment. A polished CD from a punk rock comic would sound…wrong.
Coincidentally, Saturday morning I was driving with a local punk rock spoken word artist Jimmy Doom. The night before Jimmy was talking about wanting to take a stab at comedy. His spoken word CD is raw and witty and I’m sure he’ll do great. I wanted to introduce Jimmy to DeStefano’s work because I knew they shared a similar sensibility. It always brings me joy when I can make someone laugh, whether it is from something I said or something I played for someone. Jimmy cracked up.
After the Maron interview, I found Mike on Facebook, friended him and sent him a message thanking him for sharing his story and being inspiring. He never wrote back and that’s okay. I know I’m not the only person he touched. I wish I would’ve gotten the chance to work with him. I wish I would’ve gotten the chance to share a stage with him. And I wish I would’ve gotten the chance to say thank you. We all overcome adversity in our lives. Mike overcame losing his soul mate, battling a life ending disease and drug addiction and he did it all with a smirk and a middle finger in the air. It kind of makes a lot of my problems seem small by comparison. If there is a heaven, I hope the first thing Mike said to God was, “Fuck you, I beat HIV! I win! Now where’s my old lady, mother fucker?”