Laugh Your Illness Away

An 82-year-old Florida resident is using comedy to cope with his diagnoses of stage 4 colon cancer. Harry Lichtcsien of Fort Myers is the lead actor in the Comedy Improv Troupe Harry’s Senior Moment.

As a palliative care patient, Harry’s illness is terminal. He receives chemotherapy and medical care every 2 weeks.

“ He was depressed, unhappy and was really giving up on life ” says Bonnie Grossman, his friend and comedy troupe producer.

Harry caught the comedy bug when he accompanied Bonnie to an improv theatre show and was selected to go onstage for a comedy game called Sound Effects.

He imitated sounds of a saw, a vacuum cleaner and a barking dog. “He barked the loudest, and was the funniest,” says Bonnie.

Over the past 18 months since starting his own comedy improv group, the former real estate agent and cancer patient have performed on the local theatre circuit in South West Florida as well at various hospitals and nursing homes.

“The goal is to show elderly people that they can live the best life they can,” says Harry “No matter what your situation is.”

There are 4 million people over the age of 65, living in the state of Florida. This is an increase of 1 million since 2010, according to the population census.

Harry hopes the show does more than makes the audience laugh. He wants to inspire people. “ If I can get on the stage and make people happy,” says Harry “ what a hell of a way to go out, eh”

Harry’s Senior Moment uses improv also known as improvisational theatre. It’s largely unscripted and spontaneous. It’s the oldest form of theatre and pre-dates writing.

Harry claims that doing improv comedy improves his mood. The spontaneity keeps him on his toes and keeps his brain agile “You can not be sad when you are laughing” he says.

“Anyone can do improv” says Leigh Shein, the troupe’s theatre director “it doesn’t matter if you are 8 or 88, improv can really change your life… it got Harry out of his depression”

Can laughter really improve your health?

There are several studies to suggest yes.

In 2013, a panel of Swiss pain experts presented research results that suggest – laughter decreases pain. Humour increases one’s pain tolerance and improves the quality of life especially for people with chronic pain.

In another study done at a university in California, medical researchers discovered that laughter boosts immunity and impacts your hormone function. Laughing stimulates the cleansing of the lymphatic system.

With over 21.1 million adults diagnosed with cancer (2015) according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Can laughter alleviate some of their pain and improve the quality of their lives? 

Harry hopes improv comedy does for others what it did for him. “Now I have something to live for,”  he says, “ and a reason to get up every morning… Comedy is more that being funny, I want to bring a message to people.  Live your life to the fullest.”

Harry’s Senior Moment will be back in autumn at the Alliance of the Arts Theatre in South West Florida.  Look out for it.


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