If we're going by the numbers, cancer is getting a run for its money.
Crack Up Cancer, an annual stand-up comedy benefit show, began more than a dozen years ago in a small local club, hoping to make a few bucks to help the cause. It raised almost $2,000 in the first year, which isn't bad at all, really. But founder Jack Bevilacqua wanted more, and he got it: Crack Up Cancer is now held at The Straz Center's Ferguson Hall. It raised $30,000 last year. Overall, the event has raised more than $200,000, and Bevilacqua hopes that this year's show, scheduled for September 14, does even better.
"Bigger and better" is a good prediction when it comes to this charity show, which has gone from less than 100 in the audience in its first year to around 850 in 2018. The lineup beefed up, too. Normally a showcase of top local talent, the show now features some of Florida's best (comedian and actor Dean Napolitano and 2018 Best of the Bay winner Catherine Maloney) along with national acts Mike McCarthy (Showtime, Comedy Central) and Jimmy Shubert (Last Comic Standing, King of Queens and Entourage).
The money goes to Florida Cancer Specialists Foundation, which helps cancer patients pay their mortgages and other expenses. The reduced financial stress lets patients put all of their energy into getting healthy, and let’s their families focus on helping them accomplish that goal.
While the event has grown each year, it's still personal for Bevilacqua who lost both of his parents to cancer. The annual show is a way to both honor them and recognize the impact cancer has on so many people in the community.
"It is definitely a healing process for me," Bevilacqua admitted. "And, honestly, going from a smaller event where my parents were the reason I was doing this, to what we have built, I have to be more sensitive of other attendees and their struggles with the disease."
While he's been humbled by the support Crack Up Cancer has received over the years, Bevilacqua is also determined to keep earning it. He believes a successful benefit show not only helps a good cause, but offers a good time as well. And Bevilacqua expects comedy fans will appreciate the work that went into the 2019 show.
"If your event is the same year after year and people only have the cause, you are going to lose people," he said. "I think we have improved our event dramatically over the past few years, the venue, the day of the week, the location in town, the talent level, now a successful VIP reception. We are constantly thinking of ways to improve."
Crack Up Cancer. Sat. Sept. 14, 8 p.m. $27.50. Ferguson Hall at David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa. strazcenter.org.