What weighed on your mind the most when you were eleven? Too “old” to be a kid, yet too young to be an adult, it is a time when you are just beginning to figure out who you are.
Throw a chronic illness into the mix, and life as a middle schooler becomes infinitely more difficult.
“Growing up, I didn’t know anyone with Crohn’s,” said Dan Rosen, a Toronto-based comedian diagnosed with the disease in sixth grade. “I felt like I was the only person with [it].”
Living with an invisible illness can feel isolating—so much so that it almost seems like a taboo topic—especially on the playground.
So when Dan journeyed into the world of comedy, his sets were void of any Crohn’s jokes. In a field where the line between roaring laughter and utter silence is tightrope-thin, he was unsure if the subject matter would fall flat with his audience.
Then, one night, he made the leap.
“I told an anecdote about the first time I had an enema—and it did better than any other joke I told,” said Dan.
The host of the comedy club encouraged him to tell more Crohn’s jokes, and Dan realized he had found his niche.
“The more I told those jokes, the more I would get approached by people who had similar experiences,” he said. “Soon, I realized I had more than an hour’s worth of material on it.”
That material became Game of Crohn’s, Dan’s one-man comedy show.
More than a simple evening of laughter, Game of Crohn’s has touched many. It not only educates the public about inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in a fun, entertaining way; but also provides a voice and reaches out to those living with IBD or a similar illness. Dan performs the show for both audiences, and seeing the impact is motivating and validating.
Over the phone, the comedian recounts an interaction that stood out to him: “A family of four came up to me [after the show]. Three of them had Crohn’s disease, and I noticed they kept nudging each other throughout [the performance]. That is when I felt the show was doing what I wanted it to do.”
He also spoke about an email he received from a man whose wife had gone to see Game of Crohn’s: “It was the first time she had ever heard about someone who had gone through the same experiences as her. That comfort alone made the show worth it.”
No longer that 11-year-old boy who felt alone, Dan attributes much of his exposure to the Crohn’s community to his show. Game of Crohn’s has helped connect the comedian to other “Crohnies” around the world, whether it is through social media, or in person at his shows.
In finding his comedic voice, Dan also managed to find peace with his disease: “As a comedian, it is empowering to turn my painful experiences into funny jokes that people can be entertained by.”
After his last show at the London Fringe Festival on Saturday, June 8, Dan will head to Edmonton. Their fringe festival is the largest in Canada, so he is excited to perform and bring Game of Crohn’s to a larger audience.
He hopes Game of Crohn’s encourages more dialogue around these invisible illnesses, helping others open up and become more comfortable having conversations about these conditions. After all, “everybody poops—so we should be able to talk about bowel disease in a way that isn’t stigmatized.”