Will Ferrell to lead all-star line-up using comedy to fight cancer
Logan Broyles | Downtown News
Few things can devastate a family like cancer. The fight to save a loved one takes total commitment and consumes your time and energy.
What most people don’t consider are the residual effects a disease like cancer can have on a family even after the illness has gone into remission. With every resource a family has being thrown at the disease, it is very common for them to have very little money left over just to get by, let alone enough to send these young cancer survivors to college someday.
Craig Pollard knows this fact all too well, having survived cancer not just once but twice before his twentieth birthday, receiving his first diagnosis at the age of 15 and his second at 19.
After making a “deathbed deal with God” to dedicate his life to helping others if he survived his second bout with cancer, Pollard set out as a young man on a mission to make a difference and founded Cancer for College, a local charity that focuses on granting scholarships to young college-bound cancer survivors.
As part of this mission, Cancer for College will be hosting an incredible night of comedy at the San Diego Civic Theatre, Saturday, Sept. 7.
Called “The Comedy Explosion: A Night of Comedy and Big Game Cats hosted by Will Ferrell,” the evening feature performances by Ferrell, Ed Helms from “The Office” and “The Hangover” trilogy, Jack Black and Kyle Gass as Tenacious D, Nick Kroll from “The League” and “The Kroll Show,” Chelsea Peretti, and the 2012 Comedy Central “Club Comic of the Year,” Hannibal Buress.
Since it’s inception in 1994, Cancer for College has granted over $2 million to over 1,000 scholarship recipients across the country. The comedy show is the organization’s largest fundraising event and this year celebrates 20 years for the nonprofit.
These big name performers have volunteered their time for free, allowing all proceeds to go toward helping cancer survivors pay for their dream of a college diploma. Last year alone, the organization gave out nearly 40 scholarships, with five of them being multi-year perpetual scholarships of $4,000 a year for all four years.
“How can you not want to help out kids that have had to endure cancer when al they want to do is get back some sense of normalcy back in their lives and go to college?” said Greg Flores, director of operations for Cancer for College. “After everything they have to fight through it’s heartbreaking to see these kids be told there’s no money left and they can’t go to school and live their dreams.”
The seeds for the organization’s inception were first planted when Pollard volunteered at Camp Ronald McDonald For Good Times, which is a place for seriously ill children and their families.
“While he was there he met a bunch of kids and saw how excited they got by the fact that he was a cancer survivor and was going to college, so it gave them something to look forward to,” Flores said.
“He got a spark of an idea there, and then he started to talking to the kids’ families, and realized how overwhelmed they were and that every resource was going toward getting their kid better. There was very little left after that just to keep the family going, let alone save for college and plan a college education for these kids.”
A business major at USC, Pollard knew how to develop a business plan for such an organization. It also didn’t hurt that he knew Will Ferrell, one of his fraternity brothers in school.
After starting with a golf tournament that raised the first $500 scholarship, the organization gradually grew from there with Ferrell taking an active role from the beginning.
The comedy show is all Ferrell’s doing. He utilizes his talent, resources, production company, connections in the industry, and friends to pull the show together and deliver a top-notch bill in a small venue, without charging people an arm and a leg.
Four years ago, the charity also started a pub crawl in the North Park area that was also hosted by Ferrell, who acted as the de facto tour guide as a double-decker bus drove participants from one leg of the crawl to the next.
“From the get-go Will was providing a little bit of support but he was just a young guy right out of college and didn’t have a career yet, so Craig and Will still joke to this day that some of those first checks were for like fifty bucks,” Flores said, laughing. “As Will’s career started to take off, the checks got a little bit bigger, and he started lending his name and time and supporting the events in every way that he could, whether as a host or participating, and the events kind of took off from there.”
In the early years Flores says the organization was only able to give out one or two scholarships a year. He described it as a “mom and pop” style organization, with Craig and his wife Stacy at the helm and family and friends stepping in to volunteer.
Clearly Cancer for College has come a long way since then.
The Comedy Explosion: An Evening of Comedy and Big Name Cats comes to the San Diego Civic Theater, 1100 Third Ave., Downtown, on Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, more information or to make a donation, go to cancerforcollege.org
Contributing writer Logan Broyles is the former managing editor of Pacific San Diego Magazine and editor-in-chief of Construction Digital magazine. He likes to write about music and news, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.