Seattle native and comedian Quincy Jones, who has terminal cancer, will get his wish June 2: HBO will air “Burning the Light,” made possible by a Kickstarter campaign and Ellen DeGeneres.
Most young comics dream of a televised stand-up special, but for Seattle native Quincy Jones there was greater urgency to accomplish that goal.
Jones, 32, found his life upended last year when he was diagnosed with stage 4 mesothelioma, a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers most of our internal organs.
“The chemo is controlling my cancer,” Jones said in an interview earlier this month. He jokes about his potential longevity in HBO’s “Quincy Jones: Burning the Light” airing June 2.
‘Quincy Jones: Burning the Light’
10 p.m. Thursday, June 2, HBO.
“The expectations are high,” he says. “I feel pressure … to die. I can’t live longer than three years with this [stuff]. I can’t be the Magic Johnson of cancer.”
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Jones’ HBO special came about after Jones’ friends Nicole and Mickey Blaine helped launch a Kickstarter to raise $5,000 to film a stand-up special starring Jones. That Kickstarter effort went viral, raising more than $50,000.
Jones’ Seattle-based cousin, Alexia Sharper, wrote to “Ellen” show host Ellen DeGeneres twice about Jones’ efforts. He first appeared on the daytime talk show in March, when DeGeneres made an on-air pitch for a network to pick up Jones’ comedy special. About a week later she invited him back, to reveal HBO agreed to air the program, which was taped April 4 at Teragram Ballroom in L.A.
Jones — real name Quami Wallen — graduated from Northgate’s Middle College High School in 2002. Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” album, which became an HBO special, inspired him to try stand-up.
“I always had a sense of humor and I always used that humor to defuse situations,” he said. “I always had that in my tool bag.”
Jones first performed at an open mic night in 2006 at Seattle’s Comedy Underground and decided to make comedy a full-time job in 2009. He moved to Los Angeles in 2012.
“I love Seattle, it’s my city, but sometimes I call it the Rip Van Winkle City,” he said. “I could move up there for three or four years and then you blink your eyes and you’ve been there 10 [years] and you end up having Sounders season passes and you go hiking and drive a Subaru Outback. I realized if I wanted to make it to the big leagues, then I had to move to L.A.”
Jones said his mother, Norma Wallen, of Shoreline, has been amazed by what’s happened for him career-wise in the past three months.
“She’s not a tech-savvy person, so the ‘going viral’ thing means nothing to her, but me being on ‘Ellen’ was big. She watches that program almost daily,” he said. “She’s just happy to see me living out my dream and just advises, ‘Pace yourself, pace yourself.’ ”
Jones debated how much he wanted to talk about cancer in “Burning the Light.”
“I didn’t want to be the cancer person, I wanted it to be a special from a comic who happens to have cancer,” he said. “But I decided I might as well address the elephant in the room first.”
He looks at “Burning the Light” as a launchpad for a potential comedy tour and he wants to pull together another one-hour special with new material.
“Realistically, I just want to be remembered as one of the nice guys who’s funny,” he said. “Maybe some people will remember my jokes.”
But he also hopes others who are given a terminal diagnosis will see what he’s been able to accomplish and be inspired.
“If you believe you can do something, try it,” he said. “Don’t just accept [the diagnosis] and be sad.”