Using Humor to Heal

A cancer diagnosis means many things. It often entails tears, treatments, medicines, surgeries and other unpleasant realities. But for Gilda’s Club, it entails something else: laughter. Founded in 1991 and brought to Louisville in 2004, Gilda’s is a place where cancer patients don’t have to be afraid. The clubhouse is named for comedian Gilda Radner and offers a safe environment for those affected by cancer to go to talk, to be together, to learn and to laugh. Inspired by this foundation of healing through humor, Gilda’s Club Louisville board member Stephanie Fellon helped create one of the branch’s trademark events: Night of a Thousand Laughs, happening May 16 in The Bomhard Theater at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

Stephanie Fellon.

Stephanie Fellon.

Currently in its sixth year, the event, as the name suggests, is a night of comedy. “We have local Louisvillians,” Fellon says, “who have never done stand-up comedy before, and they agree to perform a five-minute set that they write on their own. And watch out! You could be one!” The night is bookended by a cocktail reception before the show and an after party following the comedy. In addition to the rookie comics, a professional comedian performs to close the show.

Due to the hilarity inherent in the event, Fellon sees it as a truly unique evening that offers not only a good time but also the opportunity to learn about the cause behind the laughter. “It’s a fun event,” she says. “It’s not your typical fundraiser where you sit and there’s a person who talks and talks and talks. The event keeps you laughing, which has a lot to do with what Gilda’s is about: having a fun, lighthearted, spirit-lifting experience.”

Although Fellon now oversees the entire performance aspect of the event, she couldn’t have seen herself doing this 15 years ago. From Manhattan, Fellon worked in the music industry there and met her Louisville-native husband in the city. The couple moved to his hometown to be married, and, although Fellon’s personal life was right on track, she had no job. She offhandedly mentioned that she was looking for work to her neighbor at the time, Lindy Street – a Gilda’s Club Louisville founding member. Street then asked Fellon to help plan the first ever Gilda’s Night, which became the organization’s major yearly fundraiser.

Fellon worked on Gilda’s Night for several years before transitioning off the event to focus more on board related activities. As the development chair of the board, she began to work closely with development director Tonya Cook to help the organization meet its yearly budget needs. Often as much about outreach as it was about fundraising, the position helped Fellon develop an entirely new skillset, which became especially useful when the organization began talks of instituting another fundraising event.

“We were looking to host another event but maybe with a lower price point so more people could come,” she says of the formulation of Night of a Thousand Laughs. “And this was a nice new event that we thought would appeal to a different audience, that we could open up so more people could learn about Gilda’s.”

With a $200 ticket and a cap of 300-400 people, Gilda’s Night is a far more exclusive event than Night of a Thousand Laughs, which boasts a $40 minimum ticket and a cap that exceeds 600. Although different, the two events certainly complement each other and work in tandem for the same goal.

“Gilda’s Club is free,” Fellon points out. “When people come here, we don’t charge for anything, but still, we have to pay for it. You know, someone once told me, ‘Free is not cheap.’ So these fundraisers like Night of a Thousand Laughs help us keep Gilda’s free.”

Although Fellon has hit the six-year cap on a board member’s term for Gilda’s, she looks forward to working on the event for years to come, not only for its individual success but also for the long-term effect it stands to have on Gilda’s Club Louisville as a whole.

“I want the comedians to have a great time. I want the people who come to have a great time. I want people to learn a little bit about Gilda’s – or a lot about Gilda’s – and I want them to feel moved that it’s an organization they want to support, that they see the value of and that inspires them to make a donation.”

Night of a Thousand Laughs will take place May 16 at 7:30 p.m. For the comedy show only, tickets are $40; for the show and after party, they are $75, and for the entire VIP experience, they are $150. Tickets are available at www.kentuckycenter.org or by calling 502.584.7777.

Written By Remy Sisk