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Like Riding A Bike With One Leg: Tom Hayes On Life And Comedy

From Audio: Ep 189 Tom Hayes "A Comedy Career Built One Foot At A Time"

Duration: 07:23
At thirteen, Comedian Tom Hayes lost a leg to cancer and was told he would never ride a bike again. Listen to the Behind The Funny Podcast to find out how Hayes surprised doctors and himself, and what the experience taught him about life and comedy.
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Tom Hayes tells Scott Higgins and Ace Aceto of the Behind The Funny Podcast about how—at thirteen—he learned to ride a bike with his new prosthetic leg, and what the experience taught him about life and comedy. At the time, Hayes had just survived a brush with a rare disease called osteosarcoma which had led to the amputation of his leg. he was told he would never ride a bike again, but decided to try anyway and, to his delight and the doctor's surprise, succeeded. From the experience, he learned that, in life and comedy, you don't quit.
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About the age of 13, I start getting up. I was very fast as I run because I had reason. There were people chasing me. All right, right. Yeah. I was very fast. And I started getting pains in my knee. And I kept complaining to my parents. And they kept saying, uh, it's growing pains. You know, your yeah, for everything that you think it is. And I ignored it. And even order knowing it well, like finally bring me to the doctors. And I remember them looking at the X rays and there was a big white spot just at the knee that was starting to climb up my um, uh, femur. And they they said, uh, they came back and said it was osteosarcoma. Now they said tumor. That's all I hear it. I didn't hear cancer. And uh, so I figured this is something that, you know, modern science can just kind of no big deal, whatever. But next thing I know I'm in the hospital and I'm in there for like a month and one day a doctor walks in and says, we're taking your leg off and I think he's kidding and I find out he's not, and so obviously pretty traumatic. But I it was I just told this story to a bunch of fifth graders the other day, uh, inner city school and uh, it's my favorite story because I said, I went down a list. I always ask the kids, um, what would you say to this guy? Well, if the doctor comes in and says you got to remove your leg, what would you say to him? And they get it? They say right away, they said, well, if you don't, how long could I live? That was my first response. Yeah, if you don't take it off, how many years have I got? And it's funny, I asked the kids, I said, I picked an age what age would you pick that you could live to and Keep your leg and the kids go 40 was perfect. I said exactly what I said, Why? Really? And the kids go because you're old. That seems Old at that age, not when you're 74 though. 34 more years out of the deal. So yeah, I would have been pissed. But there was also another reason. I said uh yeah. And I said they are old. That's what you think. I said. But I said what else I said and I helped him along. I said are they happy? They don't know they're not happy. You know they're talking about their parents and I go why? Because they got to work? And I said right, what else that goes? Because they got bills right? And I tell them, yeah. And the third reason is they got you. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so I said, now pick another age and they go 30. And I said, you're right, that's the second age. Could you? He said, No, you can't make it to 40. I said 30 because I figured at 30 people still having fun, right? And, and uh, And he goes, no, not even 30 And I go 20. No. And I now I'm down to two years. I'm going, how about to, I'm trying to bargain for stupid me give me two years. And uh, you know, so I said, then I started asking a lot of questions. I said, uh, well, I'll be able to run because that was one of my passions is no. Uh, because I want to take my leg off at the hip. And uh, wow. Yeah. Well, the thing is this disease even today In those days, if this was before Chemo, if 100 kids got it okay, 95 died. All right. One of the lucky 55 So, God, yeah. So they, I said to the next thing I'll be able to walk, I will get you an artificial leg. And I said, uh, um, can I ride a bike? I just received a new bike. I think it was a dirty trick. My parents pulled on me to give me a new bike before I go in to get my leg amputated one pedal on it, right. And he says to me, impossible was his, Here's a Harvard chain, a surgeon, 55 years old or so. Mass general. Uh, people are flying in from all over the world to get operated on by this guy and he tells a 13 year old kid impossible. And so I go out and you know, I'm back on the street with the kids and I'm recuperating and my brother is driving my brand new bicycle. So, uh, so the desire was there and this is, you know, again, for young comics, anybody out there, you know, in order to succeed that there is a burning desire in you. And a lot of times we don't know where it comes. So we don't know why we're comics really, you know, that that seed was planted. You know, And so, um, I want every time he got off it, I would jump on it. And at that time, parents were home, women, you know, mothers were home and you want to get their mother. And I guess this was my first uh introduction to drama. They would pull me off. And I I I acted it up. I want to drive to bicycle. But in the meantime my head is going, thank God you showed up, because I don't have to try this, because they told me if I fell this way, which is without my Leg, I would possibly hit my head and die. They told me, you could die if you don't, you're gonna die. And first of all, nobody had ever done it. This is back in 1960. They they had never seen, nobody had ever seen an amputee riding a bicycle. Yeah, So they kept taking me up. So one day I got on it and nobody came, and I love the drama, because I said to the kids, why did I like the drama? Because I got all this attention attention, right, and I didn't have to try it. You see, I blame them, they they wanted to see it, they wouldn't let me do it, so they wouldn't they wouldn't let me so I could get off Big Man, you know, I spoke to all of you, I wanted to yeah, and I'm sitting there going, oh thank God, thank God they come. So one day I get on, it was a late day in august, there really is, getting ready to go back to school, I get on the bike and I'm all alone, everybody runs, but nobody comes and it's a long time, it's usually there there in seconds, somebody's mother's dragging me off this thing and I'm sitting there like, you know, folks, let's get the show on here, this is no fun, I'm here. And then the Voice, the little voice comes in and goes ride the bike and I'm like hello? And it goes right by kickoff, I kick off, I don't fall, I got balance, it was a three speed, so I was able to pull the pedal up backwards, yep, reached down and pulled it up and I pushed and I'm off and I get up and I pushed again and I'm off again and I'm going, oh my God, I'm doing this, doing it right, It's like a scene out of father's camp. All the mothers come down here when he's running and then running after me, get off the bike, you kill yourself and I'm still, I'm free, I'm like a bird, you know, I'm doing the impossible and I'm now able to get, get on this bike with all the other kids and go party with the kids. And uh everybody knew that day, including myself, they had seen a miracle. And so doctors started taking me into hospitals, They were using Super eight film to take pictures as I shocked them and sending it to teaching colleges. Uh, you know, medical schools all over the country. And so it was my first time of understanding, which is essential for any comic or anybody in life, but you don't quit.
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