As first seen on Bankrate.com
What is the difference between talking to the funniest friend you know and most celebrity comedians? Most of the time, you get the feeling that the celebrity has clothed himself with a persona from which he never escapes, or that his answers are careful scripted by either himself or his handlers. Not so with Robert Schimmel. Having been in remission for 23 months with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, he gives himself permission to have real opinions, be introspective and to name names. But make no mistake about it: he is a driven man, driven by his cancer and driven by a hunger to command the stage by making you laugh.
Schimmel was a staff writer for “In Living Color” and regularly appears on such shows as “The Howard Stern Show,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “Hollywood Squares.” He even made a cameo appearance on “The Simpsons.” His film credits include “Scary Movie 2,” “A Low Down Dirty Shame” and “Blankman.” Schimmel has also put out several CDs, one of which is “If You Buy This CD, I Can Get This Car.”
Schimmel, in his early 40s and a Bronx native, is the child of Holocaust survivors who lost all of their relatives. The lessons he learned from them about going on with life helped him to survive the horrific experience of watching his 11-year-old son die from a different form of cancer. At every location he performs, he visits hospitals, infusion centers and other care centers to donate items such as CDs and tapes to the patients. His Web site has a form to donate to the cause.
Bankrate: What new projects do you have?
Robert Schimmel: I’m starting a one-man show based on my journal that I kept when I was undergoing chemotherapy.
Bankrate: How are you feeling these days?
Schimmel: I feel great!
Bankrate: Do you have any special expenses other than medicine?
Schimmel: I don’t eat any junk. That’s it.
Bankrate: In show business, you’re dealing with people who judge the surface and expect you to be at the top of your game. Actors do all kinds of things to fake that. But you are being open about your cancer. How did you come to that decision?
Schimmel: Because, first of all, I won’t be ashamed. I was at a spot where I had everything a comic could want. Fox had even developed a show for me — two weeks after that, I found out that I had cancer. They couldn’t hold the show that long. I’m obligated to other cancer patients, to people who had cancer and did not survive and people yet to be diagnosed. Maybe some of these people can see me and tell people they know who have cancer, “If he survived, you can too!” I’m obligated to people I’ve yet to meet, who are undergoing experimental treatments. People like Lance Armstrong and Christopher Reeve, I have the utmost respect for them. They can’t be cured unless everyone like them can be cured, and they know it. To be quiet about it, you’re not helping anybody; I feel you’re holding back important information.
Bankrate: When you have money, are you in a better position, medical care-wise?
Schimmel: No. The same medicine is given to you, whether you are on welfare or at Cedar Sinai or Sloane Kettering. Yeah, at Cedar Sinai, you can choose between the steak and lobster. You can be like Elizabeth Taylor and have a whole suite to yourself. But the cancer, that’s not my golden calf. I lost my son to it. And I could not buy one more minute with him. Jackie Onassis and King Hussein, look at their money! And they had the same cancer I did. God does not accept cash.
Bankrate: How long did it take you to be able to work at comedy full time?
Schimmel: About five, six years.
Bankrate: Have you ever done other kinds of work?
Schimmel: I sold stereo and video equipment; I was a waiter, stuff like that. It’s funny, if you get a bad waitress in Cleveland, she’s just a bad waitress. If you get a bad waitress in L.A., she’s really an actress. Which is not really smart because either way, you are living off the tips, so you should be a good waitress!
Bankrate: You are very hands-on with your charity work. Do you have people who work for you in that regard?
Schimmel: No. I don’t need anybody else to help. All it takes is me.
Bankrate: You buy Discmen for cancer patients. How much do you spend on that?
Schimmel: I don’t keep a tally of it. That number means nothing to me. I believe that true charity is nameless. It’s just that my name helps them publicize it more. I’m not doing it for me. Listen, I started buying the Discmen because I did not want there to be a margin of failure. At the hospitals, when people donate CDs and tapes for the patients, I didn’t want there to be a board who waited around, figuring out how to use them. I thought, “There’s a way to overcome that!” I bought batteries for the same reason.