“I couldn’t believe how brave he was. He was fighting fear with funny.”
Comedian Russell Howard recently received an email from the parents of a 14-year-old fan named Derrick, saying their son was battling terminal cancer and would love to meet his favorite stand-up while he was still healthy enough to do so.
“He was really funny, properly funny,” the British comedian said in a bit that has since gone viral, with more than 7 million YouTube views alone.
According to Howard, the boy explained that he had a “bucket list” of things he wanted to do before dying:
- Meet former “American Idol” host Simon Pegg
- Drive a fast car
- “And he wanted to meet me.”
The 37-year-old Howard, known for his raunchy humor, said he was surprised to learn that the boy’s favorite comedic bit of his was a “forgotten piece of seminal art” called “Mr. Dildo,” in which Howard dressed as a sex toy and pretended to chase elderly strangers. “It isn’t high art, but it’s very funny,” he said.
The two struck up an unlikely friendship, with Howard returning to visit Derrick several times even as doctors said he had only days to live. Each time, the two told jokes, with Derrick freely offering his take on which of Howard’s bits were funny and which weren’t.
“There isn’t a lovelier sight in the world,” Howard said of his reaction to seeing Derrick and his family laughing at his jokes. “If you’re dealt a card that vicious, you sort of adapt, and you become funny.”
But this is where the story takes a heartbreaking turn. During their fifth visit, Howard said, “I went to see him, he said, ‘Will you go to my funeral?’” Howard of course said yes, but he quickly learned the boy had an incredibly dark and hilarious plan in store for his own wake that involved requiring some of the attendees to dress in costume.
First, he asked his dad to attend dressed as the grim reaper and point his scythe at anyone who coughed.
“I couldn’t believe how brave he was,” Howard said. “He was fighting fear with funny.”
But then Howard learned what his own costume request was to attend Derrick’s funeral as Mr. Dildo. The comedian went on to detail how he agreed to the request, plotting his driving route to the cemetery to avoid passing by any schools. He even asked the boy to write a letter putting his request in print to protect Howard against any legal repercussions.
By this point in the video, most people were crying – either from the emotional arc of the boy’s request, his brutal sense of humor, or both. But there’s one more giant twist in the story:
After being given only three days to live, a surprise medical turnaround revealed Derrick was miraculously cancer-free — but not free from sick burns.
That’s because as payback, Howard asked Derrick to let him tell the story during the taping of his comedy special and demanded Derrick himself appear on stage — but not just to get some teary-eyed applause. Nope, Howard made the now-healthy kid agree to appear on stage as none other than Mr. Dildo. Which he did. To thunderous applause.