Last July, comedian Quincy Jones was diagnosed with stage four mesothelioma cancer and given a prognosis of one year to live. On Monday, he lay in bed in Los Angeles, conserving energy and talking on the phone. “I just had chemo on Tuesday,” he said. “I feel nauseous. I feel sore. I feel tired.”
But, the 31-year-old comic said, “I definitely know that I have a more positive attitude toward things than most people do.” Right now his life is a study in contradictions: on one hand, a dire prognosis, and on the other, a surge in success the likes of which many performers will never see.
Most of all, Jones feels thankful for the support he’s gotten from fellow comics and even strangers. “I never really think of this as just me, doing it alone,” he said. “Sometimes you may feel alone, but I know for a fact that I’ve never truly been alone through this. And I’ve been blessed in that regard.”
Jones has been honing his craft for seven years, and managed to log more than 1,000 appearances at shows around the country in 2013. His biggest goal is to be able to tape a one-hour comedy special before he dies. “It’s a major step in a comedian’s career,” he said. “It’s a defining moment.”
A fellow comedian, Nicole Blaine, and her producer-husband, Mickey, offered to help, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise about $5,000 to make it happen. The project was funded within its first few hours. Jones talked about it last week on an episode of “Ellen,” which taped Monday and ran Tuesday, the day of his chemo appointment. By the time the fund-raiser closed Friday, donations had topped $50,000. The special taping, which happens April 4, had to be moved from a smaller venue in Santa Monica to the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles.
Monday, HBO announced it is picking up the special. “I’m really excited,” he said. “I’m in rarified air when it comes to comedians’ specials now. Not everybody gets an HBO special. Not everybody gets a special, period.”
When the Blaines first offered to produce a special, his expectations were modest. “I knew I was loved, I just didn’t know to what extent,” he says. “And this sort of showed to what extent I was loved.”
Meanwhile, he’s still traveling and playing gigs. He comes to Boston to play the CitySide Comedy Club in Brighton on Monday and the Limelight Comedy Club in Boston on Wednesday. Stand-up comedy is a relief for him. “I don’t feel sick when I’m on that stage,” he says. “Everything before and after the performance, I can deal with. But during the performance I plan on being as light and as carefree as possible.”
Still, Jones doesn’t talk about cancer much onstage. “It depends on the room, honestly,” he said. “Of all the good things that are happening and how great I feel when I’m on that stage, it’s still a constant reminder of my mortality. So it’s always important for me to just keep things calm and in check.”
In conversation, his sense of humor is intact. In one of Jones’s routines, he says he’s afraid of certain everyday things, like pigeons. “They don’t have smooth takeoff patterns at all,” he jokes. He laughed heartily when asked which is scarier, pigeons or cancer. “They’re both terrifying,” he said. “Equally terrifying. I can stare cancer in the face. I couldn’t handle a pigeon flying at my face. I’ll tell you that much.”
Boston comedian Tawanda Gona, a good friend of Jones’s since they met at the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival in Atlanta in 2014, recognizes that mix of optimism and realism. He remembers Jones visiting Boston about a week before his diagnosis; he’d lost weight and wound up going to the hospital here. But he also remembers Jones looking healthy and laughing with friends on his last visit in December. He says the two will joke openly about Jones’s situation. “We’ll talk, and we can laugh,” he says. “You got all this money — if I was you I’d be buying mad jewelry. Get, like, a gold grill. And we laugh about that.” He also observes that his friend doesn’t see this special as the end of the road. “He’s not treating this as a swan song,” he says. “You talk to him and it’s like, ‘No, I’m not dying tomorrow.’ ”
Jones says he doesn’t think too far into the future, but he can picture himself still doing what he’s doing in a year or more, possibly even planning his next special. “I see myself doing comedy,” he says. “Living life. I didn’t choose to accept this prognosis and I still don’t. I’m going to keep fighting, I’m going to keep living my life. I’m going to keep doing comedy and spreading joy.”
At the CitySide Comedy Club, March 28, 8:30 p.m. Free; 617-566-1000, www.citysidebar.com; Limelight Comedy Club, March 30, 7:30 p.m., $6.12 617-423-0785, www.limelightcomedyclub.com
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at email@example.com.