Local stand-up comic with Crohn's disease uses his talents to help others
Matt Nagin, a comedian who performed at the Gotham Comedy Foundation fundraiser last week, like most stand-up comedians, can't help cracking several jokes during regular conversation. But unlike most comedians, Nagin uses laughter as his own personal medicine.
"I have Crohn's disease, which is like, nobody really knows what that is," he said. "God forbid you get Lou Gehrig's disease, at least you get brand name recognition. People don't know who Crohn is."
Nagin, 36, a Chelsea resident, is part of the Gotham Comedy Foundation. Last week, Gotham Comedy Foundation held a fundraising night, where all proceeds went to support the charity.
The foundation's creator, Bill Drewes, who is in remission from cancer, always believed in laughter therapy. He and his team of comics, including Nagin, spread laughter to places like schools, hospitals and broadcast performances to people like war veterans and Holocaust survivors. But Nagin can especially relate to Drewes' theory of smiling away the pain. Ever since he started doing stand-up seven years ago, he noticed himself having a more positive attitude, and his chronic pain become less and less acute.
"To me, using laughter to deal with pain boosts your mood and increases your general well-being," said Nagin. "But I'm not going to say laughter cures any illness. If you have diabetes don't stop taking your insulin and just watch Judd Apatow films, but maybe if you do both you're better off."
Nagin may have joked about not knowing who Crohn is, but the illness itself is no laughing matter. Crohn's Disease is an autoimmune disorder, where the body's white blood cells attack the intestines as if they were a foreign agent. Nagin called it an invisible disease. He was diagnosed with the disease 23 years ago when doctors thought he had appendicitis. Nagin has struggled with pain, multiple surgeries and frequent bathroom trips throughout his life, but right now he is in remission, and is the healthiest he has ever felt.
But having Crohn's Disease does not exactly give Nagin a wealth of material for his stand-up acts. In fact, besides a performance he did for a Crohn's fundraiser several years ago, he rarely makes jokes about the disease.
"When there's food out no one wants to hear about your intestines," he said. "Keep it in the bathroom."
Instead, Nagin prefers to rant about relationships and make one-liners like one of his comedic influences, George Carlin. His first one-man show, "Wooly Mammoth Panic Attack" ran for the month of July at the 59th Street Theater, and sold out for a few of the nights. But Nagin doesn't let his successful first show get to his head.
"I had to swallow a pill once with a camera in it, so doctors could get a look at my insides," he said. "That's the most media attention I've ever received, the paparazzi camera going right through me."