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Newfoundland comedian, and Xplornet family member Steve Coombs says that COVID-19 has changed what being a comedian looks like, as lockdowns and safety measures force comedians online.

Steve says the science of standup is all about working off the energy of the crowd so having to adjust to a virtual format has taught comedians a new skillset.

“I’m watching comedians on Zoom...It’s an interesting way of trying to deliver a standup show. One of the comics I know, a lot of his following developed through online skits that he did that would blow up on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter,” he explained.

Steve first stepped on stage in 2008 at a local comedy workshop. That one open mic show lead to an addiction to performing.

“I got bitten with the bug and after that I started chasing it down at the local club every Sunday night,” he said.

When Yuk Yuk’s came to St John’s in 2009 Steve’s career blossomed from doing open mics, to being a weekend guest comedian and finally to booking gigs and touring around the province.

Steve dreamed of being a comedian his entire life.

“I used to stay up late with my dad watching comedians on television. It was always something I wanted to try,” he said.

His humour has largely been inspired by the funny things his daughters do and say.

“Other comedians used to say, ‘Steve doesn’t write jokes he just follows his kids around with a notepad’,” he said.

But, his last tour was inspired by mindfulness, the tool he uses to navigate life with cancer.

“I wrote about my experience and ended up touring across Newfoundland as a one-man comedy show called “Here and Now” about learning how to live in the moment,” he explained.

Steve was diagnosed in June of 2015 after he developed a persistent stomach ache in the days leading up to a show. He thought it was his regular nerves but when his wife, Angela pointed out that the whites of his eyes had turned yellow, they both knew it was time to see a doctor.

“It was Father’s Day. My counts were up and I was jaundice. Two days later I was tapped energy wise and we went to the ER. I had a tumor the size of a tennis ball wrapped around the head of my pancreas, blocking my liver, which is why I was getting jaundice,” he said.

Steve had an optimistic diagnosis and within a week he was in surgery.

When he returned for his follow-up, they found out it was neuroendocrine cancer, which is a slow-progressing cancer.

“You can have it for years with good quality of life and no issues,” he said.

Since then, Steve’s doctors have adjusted his treatment over time and have been able to keep things in check.

Physically, Steve was okay, but mentally he knew that there was a lot of healing that had to be done.

“Especially after losing my sister at 29 to stomach cancer, I had survivors' remorse. I had to look at how to move forward. Who am I supposed to be after this experience? You expect a counsellor to sit down and write a map for you but you realize no one is going to give that to you. You have to figure it out for yourself,” he explained.

That’s when he started writing his one-man-show.

“Writing about it was very therapeutic... It helped me to externalize and take control of my diagnosis, thoughts and feelings. I got to share that story and go on stage and let people know that this is what a cancer survivor goes through,” he said.

Steve was thrilled with the response he got from fans including survivors who identified with his work.

Shortly after his show hit the stage, Newfoundland’s Arts and Culture Centre reached out to and offered him a residency.

“I was able to do workshops with cancer survivors talking about writing as part of the healing process,” he explained.

Steve’s biggest piece of advice to survivors is to learn mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is key; being in the moment instead of worrying about a scan that’s coming up a month from now,” he explained. “As a survivor, when you do forward thinking and planning you start to think, ‘I’ve got a scan coming up, what if, what if, what if.’ You learn to let that go and say today it’s Thursday, I’m healthy, I’m good, I’m here.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic pressing on, this advice resonates more than ever.

“It was a bad year but I’ve gleaned the positives. With chemo my immunity is lower so I'm able to take advantage of working from home and not going out in the public. It’s really helped me with my health concerns. Staying clear of any possible exposure to COVID,” Steve explained.

When he’s not making people laugh, Steve is a full-time database analyst.

Working from home, he and his family have had the pleasure of spending more time at their cabin this year.

The cabin, built in the 50s, is on Horse Chops Pond, on the southern shore of the Avalon Peninsula.

“My father and I did renovations so we can spend time there year-round with the kids,” he said. I can go up to the cabin and work from home just the same as I’m in the office. It really helps that we can be up there, be in the country and go for a swim in the pond.”

Steve’s family’s cabin went from an off the grid hideaway to an Xplornet Internet-connected pond-side paradise.

“We’ve got a great signal. The kids and I can stream, have our movie nights and play our games. Other friends who have cabins and went to Xplornet had nothing but good to say about the service they have received,” he said.

Steve is taking a little break from live shows until it’s safe for him to perform, but you can stay in touch with him on Instagram or learn more about him by visiting www.stevecoombs.ca.

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