"When both my kidneys failed, my wife donated her kidney. After 35 years, she finally gives me a gift."
In the YouTube video where the pleasant-faced older man makes this quip, we see the audience bursting into laughter. Which is appropriate enough since he is on stage doing a very unique form of stand up comedy. He is just one of the terminally ill patients participating in a new campaign organized by the Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC). Intended as a national forum to help individuals receiving palliative care and provide more effective help for terminally ill patients and their families, IAPC is now working with Medulla Communications to run its #LastWords campaign. In this campaign, patients are given a chance to "laugh at death" with standup comedy routines. The patients in the videos were selected from the hundreds of terminally patients in the IAPC network and then trained by professional stand up comedians.
The end product is a series of two minute videos, all available on YouTube on the #LaughatDeath channel, featuring patients giving performances that are memorable in every sense of the word. The jokes range from the personal to the political including one by kidney patient Narendra Mhatre who quips, "Americans wish their new president would be like me. So he doesn't last long”. Sixty-five-year-old Janice Powell says, “This is the first time I am doing this type of a show. Who knows, maybe it's the last time.”
Along with giving patients a chance to entertain family members and their doctors, providing stand up comedy also allows terminally patients to conquer their fear of death. And it's proving to be wildly popular. After the IAPC channel went online on YouTube on March 29 of this year, the first video drew more than 387,000 views in a single day and four others are now available. The hashtag #LaughAtDeath has trended in India and may well do the same internationally as users continue to share the videos.
In an interview with Campaign India, Praful Akali, founder and managing director of Medulla Communications is overwhelmingly positive about these videos "This is not just a campaign but an ongoing project and platform for terminally ill patients to share their stories and spread awareness on palliative care," he said. While the bittersweet message being conveyed in the videos can be hard to take for many people, the tears, and the laughter, help demonstrate the critical importance of palliative care worldwide.