Maybe you have a dream – something you’ve always wanted to do.
And maybe, today, you are doing something to make that dream happen.
Or maybe you’re putting it off, doing other things today but promising yourself you’ll pursue the dream ‘someday’.
Either way, I have an amazing story for you.
If you’re already working on your dream, it will inspire you to redouble your efforts.
And if you’re putting your dream off, I hope it will change your mind.
Dying to Do Letterman is a new documentary telling the story of Steve Mazan, a comedian who had always dreamed of appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman – the Holy Grail for stand-up comedians in the USA.
Steve assumed he had decades to make his dream a reality, so he took his time, working hard on his act and appearing in plenty of small clubs, but not daring to raise his sights to aim at the big prize.
Then one day his doctor told him he had cancer. And he realised he no longer had all the time in the world to make his dream come true.
Dying to Do Letterman shows you what Steve did next.
(Click to watch the video if it doesn’t show up in your email version.)
The film is produced by my friends Joke and Biagio (who have previously shared with Lateral Action readers their tips on how to succeed in Hollywood). It’s moving, fascinating, inspiring – and very funny.
When Biagio told me about the film, I knew I wanted to feature it on Lateral Action, as Steve’s story resonates with so many things we’ve said on the site about what it takes to achieve big meaningful goals.
Steve, Joke and Biagio have been kind enough to answer some questions for Lateral Action readers about the film and the issue it raises.
I’m sure you’ll find their answers worth pondering in relation to your own dream. And I hope you’ll help the film reach the widest possible audience – see the end of the interview for how you can help.
Mark (to Joke and Biagio): How did you come across Steve’s story? What made you decide to do the film?
Joke: The story really shocked us, honestly. It was something we never saw coming, and at first we weren’t sure we’d even make the movie.
Steve Mazan is a good friend the two of us had met before he was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, we were earning money editing any kind of film or video we could out of our one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. Steve needed a ‘comedy reel’ (a tape with his best stand-up comedy edited together on it.) After making that tape we became friends.
Biagio: A few years later Steve emailed us saying he’d launched a campaign called ‘Dying to Do Letterman’. When we went his site to see what the campaign was about, we learned he had cancer and might only have five years to live. It was shocking.
Steve, a regular guy we were friends with – about 33 years old – was told his time on earth was running out. Yet he’d decided to do something positive with his time. Rather than wallow in self-pity he was spending his life chasing his dream: Performing stand-up comedy on David Letterman’s show.
Joke: We called him and asked if there was anything we could do to help. Steve said he’d been “shooting a little video” and would love to document his journey. Would we help?
It wasn’t an easy decision, especially considering the high emotions involved in filming a sick friend. We took a day to think about it, but we agreed – with some caveats.
The two of us told Steve that it wouldn’t be easy. We couldn’t just put down the camera and give him a hug when he was having a hard time. His response: “Oh, you just made my tumors hurt.” We laughed and cried and laughed some more, and that’s how it all began.
Biagio: Aside from the fact that Steve was our friend, we thought his message was concise and brilliant: “It’s never too late to chase your dreams.” That’s what the movie’s about. It’s not a cancer movie about some guy dying – it’s an underdog movie about a man chasing a childhood dream against the most extreme obstacle.
Plus, Steve’s a funny guy! To make a movie in the cancer space that was truly entertaining, allowed audiences to laugh despite the ‘C’ word, and might inspire people to chase their own dreams, was a calling we couldn’t pass up.
Mark (to Steve): In the documentary you say your dream didn’t change when you learned you had cancer, it just became more urgent. What did you start thinking and doing differently once you felt this urgency?
Steve: I started to realize that all the things I had planned on accomplishing, all the things I thought I had plenty of time to reach, might not happen. It forced me to prioritize.
I asked myself if I really only had five years left what did I want to make sure happened. For me that was getting on Letterman. It was my biggest lifelong dream and I had been waiting for it to happen. Now I had a deadline (sick pun intended). Having that deadline made me approach the whole goal differently.
I started taking a lot more actions towards the goal. A lot bigger actions. I stopped waiting for it to come to me. I went after it in any and every way I could think of. I stopped worrying about the right or traditional way to accomplish my goal – I just started going at it full force.
Mark: What has your quest taught you about what you are capable of – and what sacrifices are necessary for success?
Steve: The whole journey made me realize what power I (all of us) have when forced to put it all out there. The drive, the focus, the creativity it’s all there waiting to be untapped.
I was given a wake up call to how little time I might have left – but the truth is we all need that wake up call. We are all going to die. Some much sooner than we expect. Of course we know that at some level, but the day-to-day routine of life makes us forget that.
I’ve heard people say you should live every day like it’s your last. Well I think if I did that I’d be in jail, broke and have very few friends by the end of the week. Ha ha. But I get the sentiment. I would imagine most successful people aren’t waiting for things to come to them, they’re not pushing them off.
Mark: I notice you didn’t go it alone – as well as receiving support from friends and family, you reached out to successful comedians for advice. What did you learn from the process of contacting high-flyers and asking for the benefit of their experience?
Steve: I got a lot of help along the way. A good friend and fellow comic sent me a list of all the comedians who had ever performed on Letterman. I decided to reach out to every one of them. I tracked down their emails or their manager’s mailing addresses and sent them a note asking for help and advice in achieving a goal they had already completed.
I didn’t hear back from a lot. I got a polite no from others. But some of the biggest names in comedy, from Ray Romano to Kevin Nealon, Jim Gaffigan and Daniel Tosh agreed to talk to me. What I learned is that the people that can give you the best advice want to share it. They want to help and give back.
I’ve tried to take this lesson and do some good myself by giving back in my own way. We have done a couple charity screenings of our film to raise money for others in need or dealing with cancer. We’ve incorporated the idea of helping others into our plans with the film. A couple weeks ago we raised $8,000 for a little girl fighting leukemia. It’s great because it brings a whole other layer of satisfaction to the project.
Mark: What would you say to anyone reading this who has a dream they plan to pursue ‘someday’?
Steve: I would tell them that someday is NOT on the calendar. When it comes to dreams it is probably the most scheduled day of the year. But it’s never going to come. Whether it’s cancer or a car accident or a million other things, there is a good chance you might not live till that imaginary date out in the future.
Give yourself a real date and then put everything you have into it. Then you’ll really be living. Is there any doubt the world would be a better place if everyone was pursuing their dreams? It’s a theory worth testing.
Mark (to Joke and Biagio): What are you trying to achieve with the Kickstarter appeal? What can Lateral Action readers do to help?
Joke: Early on no-one would consider funding this documentary. Too many questions: Would Steve live? Would he get on Letterman? How long would it take? How much would it cost? There was no way to answer any of that. At the time (2006) there was no YouTube, no Facebook, and no Kickstarter to turn to, so we made the movie ourselves.
Biagio: Which we didn’t mind, actually. We’ve always been a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ kind of team, so we believed that if we made the movie and it was good, people would come out to support it.
When we were invited to compete for the Academy Award® by the International Documentary Association, we knew it was time to ask for help putting the movie in theaters and covering the cost of our indie Oscar® campaign, so we turned to Kickstarter.
Joke: Our hope is to raise up near $100,000 and use that money to put Steve’s story in theaters everywhere, with Steve traveling to meet and inspire audiences around the world.
Further, it is our hope to put up benefit screenings in many of the places we visit. For instance, a few weeks ago we organized a charity screening for a young girl with leukemia, and raised $8,000 for her and her family in just one night. Hopefully we can give back far more than the money we’re asking for on Kickstarter in the coming years.
Biagio: We chose Kickstarter because it’s not a typical fund-raising platform – people get something for any amount they pledge, even as little as $1. And every pledge above $50 gets all sorts of cool mementos including a special edition DVD of the movie.
Any Lateral Action reader can help out by giving as little as $1. Just go to this link, watch the short video, and pledge: http://www.dyingtodoletterman.com/fund
Joke: The campaign ends 2:13 pm PST on September 4 – so please head over now and help us bring Steve’s amazing story to the world.
Biagio: Thank you, Mark, for championing this project.
Mark: My pleasure, thanks to all of you for sharing such an inspiring story with Lateral Action readers.
If you want to help Dying to Do Letterman reach the widest possible audience, you can donate via the Kickstarter page.
And can you please help to get the word out by Tweeting, Liking, blogging and generally helping to get the word out about the Kickstarter appeal page: http://www.dyingtodoletterman.com/fund. Thank you!