The one thing comedy and cancer have in common is that they both start with the letter “C.” There’s nothing funny about the latter, and if you’re a practitioner of the former, you better not scoff at the dreaded disease. Unless, of course, you have it.
Enter Alex Hooper, Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian and “America’s Got Talent” veterinarian, whose August diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma served as the starting point for all sorts of jokes about his little plight. enviable. Hooper – a staple of the city’s comedy scene, known for his outrageous antics, gravity-defying bright red hair and unwavering ability to roast anyone in seconds – continued to perform locally, even in the midst of chemo .
With unearthly positivity and boundless love for fellow comedians, family, and audiences, Hooper managed to turn cancer into a punchline and inspire his fans to appreciate life in the process.
During a recent show at Club Tee Gee in Atwater Village (shortly after his third round of treatment), Hooper began his set by telling the audience about his battle with cancer, noting, “I’ll be spending the next few minutes to do it’s hilarious because that’s how I deal with the things I’m afraid of – I laugh at them until they’re gone. So just know that if you’re not laughing at this material, you’re actively killing me.
The subdued calm that engulfed the audience after Hooper’s initial reveal evaporated in a fit of laughter. Now in the public good graces, he continued with a joke about how he received his diagnosis right after marrying his girlfriend of 15 years.
“So to every guy with an upside-down hat that looked at me and said, ‘Don’t do that bro,’ I get it now,” he jokes.
Hooper, 37, was born in Baltimore, went to college in Pittsburgh and in 2008 moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Six months after he arrived, a friend offered him a place in what is now the Spotlight Comedy Club in Studio City. Until that moment, Hooper hadn’t even considered trying stand-up.
When he left the stage after the six-minute set, he remembers thinking, “This is what I’ve been looking for all my life – this feeling of vulnerability and immediacy.”
Both of those feelings also accompany a cancer diagnosis, Hooper notes during an interview at Pan Pacific Park where the active, health-conscious performer often practices his balance on a slackline. Hooper now channels those same feelings in the service of healing through his chosen art form.
“I never feel more alive than when I’m on stage,” says Hooper. “When I tell a really dark joke about chemotherapy and the whole room bursts into laughter, and we can all sit here and have this moment, I can literally feel the cancer cells disintegrating inside of me.”
Fellow comedians took note of Hooper’s penchant for filling his body with positivity to rule out disease negativity. And, for those who know him best, it’s no surprise.
“He took lemons and made lemonade out of them. He made it into a lemon meringue pie. He made it into lemon bars. He turned it into lemon popsicles,” says Shawn Pelofsky, who runs a monthly show at the Improv called Social Media Meltdowns, on which Hooper is a regular performer. “I have never seen a warrior like Alex.”
Hooper is a somewhat paradoxical figure in comedy because he is, in his own words, “a magical imp spreading nuggets of joy” wherever he goes; while also known for gutting Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Mel B. of the Spice Girls during a 2018 appearance on “America’s Got Talent.”
Dressed in shimmering skintight blue trousers, a matching fluffy tail and a long-sleeved brown leotard with a fur-lined collar – Hooper roasted the famous judges, telling the English singer that the only thing that made her fear was his solo career, and the Dour British record exec that America was founded to get away from Brits like him.
The live audience appeared horrified during the three-minute segment, and Hooper says at the time he was sure he bombed in the most tragic way. It took 2.5 months for the episode to air, a time that Hooper remembers as “absolute hell…where every minute I go, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, what have I done ? What did I do?'”
But then it got aired and it was edited in a way that Hooper said celebrated his roast. Hooper’s profile as a comedian skyrocketed after his debut on national television. He was then working in ticket sales at Universal Studios (a position he had held since arriving in Los Angeles), and tourists began to recognize him.
“People would be so excited. They would like to take pictures. They say, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, don’t you know we’re not getting paid to do this show?’ jokes Hooper, adding that the answer would inevitably be. “But you’re on TV!”
To which he replied, “Not now, I am not. I’m selling you a ticket.
Hooper ended up being such a success at the variety contest that he made two more appearances, in a Season 15 audition just as the pandemic hit in 2020, and later that year as only quarter-finalist.
Hooper’s gift for roasting, like his ability to find a silver lining in his cancer diagnosis, likely stems from his capacity for bottomless love, his friends say.
Brian Moses, who co-created the Comedy Central series “Roast Battle” with Jeff Ross, calls Hooper “the nicest guy in town,” and says his ability to become a “destroyer” in the early shows of ” Roast Battle” even caught Hooper off guard.
“He used to be like this carefree guy who talked about his pugs and his wife,” Moses says, but roasting allowed Hooper to focus on performing and he found his natural voice.
Moses says the mantra of professional roasters is that you only roast the ones you love.
“It’s mostly that – being able to compliment someone you really appreciate, admire, or really like,” Moses explains. “And I think Alex really took that head on, and was like ‘I love everyone. I’m going to talk about everyone’.
That love came back to Hooper full force when he announced his diagnosis to the world via a YouTube video in late August that has now had nearly 5,000 views. After posting the video, Hooper says he experienced what his wife, Lauren Tassi, called a “vulnerability hangover.”
“It’s when you completely expose yourself. And suddenly you wish you hadn’t, because you realize how naked you are,” says Hooper, recalling putting down his phone immediately after posting and not being able to pick it up for three hours. while he was worried.
But when he finally did, he had hundreds of texts. Over the next few days, that number grew to over 1,000. A sequel GoFundMe initiative started by her sister-in-law to help with medical costs has already raised $33,000 of a goal of $50,000.
This response upset and humiliated Hooper, who is not used to – or comfortable with – stopping to rest or accepting help from others. The two things he must now allow himself to do.
Hooper’s prognosis is good. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is known to be treatable, particularly because it tends to strike when people are in their 20s and 30s – relatively young and healthy, with bodies primed for battle.
Hooper’s wife recently reminded him that one day he will be cancer free and he will have to think about his next chapter. Hooper was already one step ahead of her.
“I want to get out of the chemo room, straight into a special,” he jokes, before pausing to think. He and his wife want to start a family, and he has so much to look forward to.
“If I want to be the best person possible, not only for myself, but also for my loved ones, I have to learn to relax,” he says. “Yes, I can be ambitious. Yes, I can write scripts now. And I can set up and I can shoot videos. But the important thing is to relax and allow my body to do what it needs.