Havin’ a Ball: Nimesh Patel Turns Testicular Cancer into Comedy for His New YouTube Special

Havin’ a Ball: Nimesh Patel Turns Testicular Cancer into Comedy for His New YouTube Special

I had a confession for Nimesh Patel when we spoke about Lucky Lefty OR: I Lost My Right Nut and All I Got Was This Stupid Special, his latest stand-up special on YouTube. I had intended to watch Lucky Lefty a few times in the days leading up to our interview, but the special’s subject — Patel’s bout with testicular cancer — made me uncomfortable enough to keep postponing my watch until the last minute. Any apprehensions I had were unfounded — Lucky Lefty wasn’t what Patel says could have been “a Ted Talk about balls.” Instead, it was a laugh riot. I never should have doubted the guy. 

Click right here to get the best of Cracked sent to your inbox.

Patel, recently named one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch for 2023, understood my trepidation — he had some of the same worries about the special himself. “I went in knowing I didn’t want to come off as some heavy-handed, woe-is-me kind of comic because that’s not who I am,” he tells me. “I wanted to make sure that it was as irreverent as I could make it because there is an easy way to turn it into ‘here are the lessons that I learned.’” Patel laughs at the idea. “What actually happened is I didn’t learn anything.” 

Watch Lucky Lefty and you’ll discover that’s not true, but Patel is careful to avoid finger-wagging platitudes after his cancer scare. Instead of sinking into depression, Patel did what many comics do — mined potential disaster for comedy material. “Hannibal Buress once told me you got to talk about something the instant it happens,” he explains. “I was just taking notes every day while this was happening. I didnt have the time to get sad about myself.” 

In fact, developing the special served as a kind of real-time medicine for Patel. “I had no idea how to process this stuff. I had no actual feelings of sadness. And I asked my therapist, ‘Why is that? Why dont I feel what cancer survivors typically feel?” The answer, said the therapist, was that Patel talked about it immediately. He was on stage telling his story 11 days after surgery, writing about his feelings every day. In other words, he basically used stand-up comedy as exposure therapy. 

Patel’s physical well-being is A-OK as well. From discovery (on his birthday!) to diagnosis to procedure to clean bill of health, the entire saga took only five days. Or “three business days,” as Patel notes in his special. Letting his audience know that he was healthy was a huge key to making the material work. “For the first month or so that I was working on it, I had this angle of making the cancer diagnosis a reveal, as opposed to ripping off the Band-Aid right away. And what I found in doing it that way, I played too much with people’s emotions so they weren’t laughing as much when I needed them to be. They were more engrossed in the story, which is great, but not what I was going for. I wanted them to be laughing right away.”

In case you were wondering, the laughs in Lucky Lefty aren’t entirely about Patel’s nether regions. He also talks about his experience working with Chris Rock. How does an up-and-coming comic get a gig writing jokes for a world-famous comedian? “In the summer of 2015, I ran a show called Broken Comedy with Mike Denny and another close friend named Michael Che. It was one of the best shows in (Brooklyn). In July, I had just been rejected from JFL New Faces (the famous Just for Laughs showcase for comedy newcomers) for the third time and so I was feeling a bit annoyed.”

Cut to the Broken Comedy show that Monday night. A production company, eager to attach Rock to a TV pilot, invited him to come watch another comic. “When Chris showed up, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely going up.’ (Rock) is one of the reasons I started comedy. If you were to look at my first tape ever, it was me doing a Chris Rock impression, you know?” Patel was second up that night and he killed, a set he describes as an A+. “I heard Chris laugh at one of my jokes and I’m like, ‘OK, that’s it. That’s all I need.’ After the set, Chris came up and said, ‘Hey, you’re really funny.’”

“‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘You’re Chris Rock.’”

That successful set turned into a gig writing jokes for Rock when he hosted the 2016 Academy Awards, which indirectly led to Patel writing for his old friend Che when he found himself behind the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live. “He thought that I had a good handle on his voice and that I would be able to do the same thing I did for Chris. That was another learning experience.”

Patel had a lot of fun writing Update jokes on SNL, but 2016 — an election year, for those of you who don’t remember — wasn’t an easy one for comedy. “The biggest challenge was the fact that we were in the middle of Donald Trump’s first year as president,” he tells me. “That year was, as Che put it, like drinking from a fire hose. It was so difficult to keep up with the news. It was peak Twitter time, with news every second about something stupid Donald had said. It was so hard to stay sane and not be flooded by nonsense.”

Now that Lucky Lefty is racking up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, Patel is hitting the road once again. He announced his new Fast and Loose tour this week, crisscrossing the States with a London stop in September before ending at Madison Square Garden by year’s end.  

It’s likely that he’ll meet fans affected one way or another by Lucky Lefty. “Every weekend I do a show and a meet and greet, and I meet one or two people who tell me they went through the same thing,” he says. Even more important are the people who weren’t aware of potential problems. “Like, ‘I have a lump, I’ve been meaning to get it checked.’ I’m like, ‘Go to the doctor. Don’t ask me for medical advice.’”

But if Patel made an uncomfortable topic easier for someone to talk about? “Then that’s a win for me.”

Scroll down for the next article


Forgot Password?