32-year-old Quincy Jones (not to be confused with the legendary musician and producer) is described universally by his friends, family, and audience members as a special talent and a special human being. For 7 years, the aspiring comic has been lighting up local audiences at open mic nights and comedy clubs with his unique brand of humor. But on July 3rd, 2015 he received a life-shattering phone call: Doctors told him he'd been diagnosed with terminal peritoneal mesothelioma and had only a year to live.
Caused by asbestos-exposure, mesothelioma is a particularly severe form of cancer with no known cure and very few treatment options. Peritoneal mesothelioma attacks one’s stomach lining, and is the second rarest kind of mesothelioma with about 600 new cases per year.
But Jones hasn't let his illness stand in the way of his dreams. Despite enduring constant exhaustion and nausea, the comic has performed an estimated 1,000 stand-up sets this past year. For Jones, a commitment to his craft is a commitment to life. "There is no cancer when I'm on that stage," Jones said. "I give myself so much to the craft. I'm so in love with it that [I] don't feel any limitations."
From Kickstarter to Ellen: A Life-Long Dream Becomes Reality
When they found out their friend was sick, fellow comedian Nicole Blaine and her husband devoted themselves to helping Jones attain his life-long dream: filming a 1-hour comedy special. The couple launched a Kickstarter campaign with a modest goal of $5,000. Within a relatively short time, that goal was obliterated: 1,204 people donated a collective $50,273 to Jones’s cause.
The fundraising efforts of Jones and his friends caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who invited the comedian onto her show. After talking with Jones, DeGeneres turned to the camera and said, “if somebody from HBO is watching...this guy [Jones] is hilarious.” A week after Jones’s appearance on Ellen, DeGeneres invited him back for a second visit. During their conversation, the talk show host surprised her guest with what must have been some of the best news of his life. She announced: "We called the head of HBO, and your people didn't even tell you this, but HBO is going to air your special.”
Jones was speechless. During the 7 years he's spent pursuing his dream, he moved from Seattle to Atlanta to Los Angeles. He worked at coffee shops during the day while performing at open mics and unpaid gigs night after night. HBO's announcement that it will air his comedy special in April is the culmination of a decade's worth of hard work and persistence.
Following His Dreams: How HBO Provided a Big Break
Jones’s story is a testament not only to his desire to achieve his dreams, but also to the power of television and online media hubs for fostering an awareness of under-discussed issues like living with cancer.
As more and more television time is swallowed up by mindless celebrity gossip or contrived reality TV shows, networks like HBO are using their influence to step up and help victims of corporate injustice. This is especially important for the 3,000 Americans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. This asbestos-triggered disease is just another byproduct of corporate greed.
Asbestos is still found in thousands of buildings across the U.S. Asbestos industry companies spent roughly 100 years hiding the dangers of their products from the general public. Even worse, many Americans are under the misconception that asbestos is currently banned; the unfortunate reality is that the U.S. still uses 2.3 million pounds of the stuff each year. Why? Because obscenely wealthy chemical conglomerates spend hundreds of millions of dollars bribing politicians and lobbying for its continued use.
HBO Gives a Voice to the Victims of Corporate Injustice
HBO is a multi-billion dollar network in its own right and as such it could also rely on celebrity names and weekly trends to boost its revenues. Instead, it has become a safe haven for social activists and political thinkers who value truth and discussion over pure profit.
In November of 2015, HBO signed an exclusive 4-year deal with former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, allowing him to produce digital content. While the exact nature of the deal has yet to be described, it looks like Stewart may use the opportunity to support overlooked causes like the 9/11 Zadroga Act – an act that offered lifelong medical funding to 9/11 rescue workers, many of whom became terminally ill after breathing in so much smoke and debris.
HBO has become a high-visibility outlet for public interest advocates. Former Daily Show correspondent, John Oliver (who hosts Last Week Tonight) has openly stated that HBO producers allow him the freedom to delve into deeper and more complex topics that affect the health and safety of all Americans. One example was Oliver’s 10-minute-long segment on General Motors and how it took the auto giant 15 years to recall a faulty ignition switch. Because HBO doesn't rely on advertisers in the way that the big networks and cable stations do, it allows Oliver to not only tell jokes, but to inform his audience of the very real and serious issues underlying corporate negligence.
But HBO’s roots in American consumer advocacy go back even further – all the way to Bill Maher, whose show Real Time with Bill Maher has been on the network since 2003. A self-described socialist, Maher has used his platform to let leading thinkers and activists speak out on political and social issues that are critically important to the American public.
The strength of networks like HBO and digital venues like VICE (another HBO-produced, truth-seeking news outlet) is that they aren’t necessarily beholden to corporate advertisers. The very same companies that hope the American public forgets their products cause cancer are also the ones advertising on cable and network TV stations. Channels like HBO rely on subscribers for revenue; their platform affords them the opportunity to openly support the victims of corporate injustice – victims like Quincy Jones.
Time for the Media to “Look” Instead of “Overlook”
Just like Quincy Jones, all of the roughly 3,000 Americans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year have dreams and goals. For many, those dreams may never be realized in time.
Jones's inspirational story demonstrates how the media can help those who are often overlooked by bringing their struggles and stories in front of the eyes of the nation. The American public is undoubtedly better off for knowing Quincy Jones’s story; he shows cancer victims that there is always room for hope – and ambition – no matter what the prognosis.