It took countless chemotherapy sessions and an ongoing battle with breast cancer for Beth Kaufman to pursue her dream.
After being told she was cancer-free while attending a health program at Duke University in July 2009, Kaufman was skeptical.
"I felt lumps," Kaufman said. "I went through that summer hoping they were right, but knowing in my gut they were wrong."
It was two months later that the 53-year-old learned she "officially" had breast cancer. The tumor in her chest was so attached that she endured chemotherapy prior to surgery, a rarity in breast cancer procedure, according to Kaufman.
After countless chemotherapy sessions, Kaufman was in remission by May 2010 after being diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer.
After one particular chemo treatment, Kaufman said she realized the very thing that “kept her going” through her fight with cancer was the same thing she wanted to do her whole life—make people laugh.
Now, the Crofton resident and mom has taken her dream of stand-up comedy and turned it into a career.
“It’s pretty interesting. She’ll randomly say she’s going to a show when most parents are going to their kids’ soccer games or something,” said Kaufman’s 16-year-old daughter Danie Minor, who attends South River High. “It’s pretty cool she does something that makes her happy.”
With her comedy so interlaced with life's struggles, Kaufman says laughter is about far more than entertainment.
“Laughter and comedy help you handle life,” she said. “It gives you self-confidence, self-esteem. Stand-up comedy gets you outside of your ‘box.’”
If it weren’t for her love of comedy, Kaufman said she might not have survived her fight with breast cancer.
“It got me through it. [Laughter] was my medicine,” she said. “In chemotherapy, they’re killing the cancer but at the same time, they’re killing you. If you don’t laugh and take some of it and make it lighter, you’re not going to make it.”
Danie said her mother's fight with cancer showed Kaufman's internal strength.
“It was hard watching her lose her hair. I knew she was strong, but I didn’t know exactly how strong,” Danie said. “She wrote a lot of jokes during chemo. That was really good for her.”
Kaufman previously represented athletes as an attorney.
"The pay isn't as good but I'm having the time of my life," Kaufman said.
Just as comedy and laughter helped her endure the hardship of fighting a disease, the South River High School mom hopes to take her passion to schools and use it to help kids fight the trials of bullying and insecurity.
Heckling is a part of life as a stand-up comedian and handling it can translate to helping kids deal with bullies, Kaufman said. Bullying and heckling are issues at any school, but more and more students are being victimized on digital mediums, Danie said.
In the coming weeks, Kaufman hopes to start a series of stand-up comedy classes for middle and high school students called "Stand Up to Your Hecklers!”
In the class, Kaufman will teach children to develop and hone comedic timing, creativity and presentation. Kaufman plans to hold four weekly classes leading up to a graduation show March 31 where students will perform original material. The goal is to entertain but also empower students, Kaufman said.
“Kids see these funny people on television and think, ‘Oh, I’m too young.’ Truth is, you’re not,” Beth said. “We hope students aren’t getting bullied, but this class will help kids learn to stand up for themselves as well. Laughter helps you handle life.”
The comedian said if a child is concerned they’re not charismatic or funny enough for the class, think again.
“I’ll make you funny. I’ll bring it out of you,” she said.
Kaufman is attempting to work with Crofton Middle School and South River High School to begin her first class for young comedians March 3.