The comedian who couldn't laugh off cancer and Catholicism
Carl Kozlowski May 16, 2019
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Vinny Fasline was surrounded by his boisterous Italian Catholic family. He had dreams of taking his athletic abilities to college and beyond, but his idyllic life was thrown for a loop when he developed brain cancer at the age of 13, and wound up fighting to survive.
Thanks to a combination of surgery, treatment, and intensive prayer, Fasline pulled through his ordeal and found a new path in life, applying his ample natural wit to stand-up comedy. He put aside his sports dreams and moved comedy to the top of his bucket list after his mom enrolled him in a stand-up comedy class when he was 16.
Fasline has never looked back. At 32, he is a star performer at the Hollywood Improv Comedy Club and the Comedy Store, and he has headlined clubs across the country, touring the U.S. and Canada with comedy superstar Dane Cook.
Fasline has also made it a point to give back with his talents, helping other cancer patients by performing at fundraisers for the Pittsburgh branch of Gilda’s Club, a cancer support organization started by comedy legend Steve Martin in honor of the late Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner.
“My mom pushed me into a college comedy class when I was 16, so I owe a lot of this to my mom,” said Fasline.
“I was really funny as a kid, and did impressions when I was 3 years old. My mom used to think I was hilarious. [She] was probably my only fan. I was doing impressions and she always thought I had potential and I wanted to do all these daring things after my surgery. I went up right after I was cured and I was bad. Last year I went back home to Pittsburgh and headlined that same club. That was cool.”
Fasline’s cancer first manifested itself one morning when he had a seizure while his father, a doctor, was driving him to school. Rather than physically shaking, he “spaced out” and stopped talking mid-conversation, not even noticing that his dad was telling him to get out of the car.
“They call that kind of reaction ‘episodes,’ and my dad figured out something was really wrong when I didn’t get out of the car and I said I had to get dressed for school,” Fasline recalled. “He took me for an MRI.”
Doctors discovered he had a tumor, and Fasline had to undergo a string of in-depth tests, including EEGs, prior to his surgery. Although his tumor was successfully removed, Fasline lost some coordination and found that his memory was affected.
However, one relative blessing was that because the tumor was on his temporal lobe, on the outer edge of his brain, he didn’t have to endure radiation treatments.
“I always grew up in the Catholic Church anyway, so even if I didn’t have my super-supportive family, I always had faith that God put me here and gave me a plan,” Fasline said. “It was the destiny that he put me through. I was terrified the night before surgery, because I was a kid. My parents bought me a GameBoy the night before. I was only worried that they kept the receipt!”
Fasline’s Catholic school education and strong sense of faith carried him through the side effects of his battle, when he was trying to remain positive, despite the fact his head was “super swollen” while he was in the hospital prior to surgery.
He recalled that he “looked just like the monster in ‘The Goonies,’ so my family and friends would watch it with me later and laugh that he was me.”
“At a surprisingly young age I had a lot of faith, and I still use it to this day because this town is so tough and so dark,” said Fasline. “I don’t know how I would survive in Hollywood without it, and I don’t understand how some people don’t even remotely consider a higher power. I definitely believe faith is what keeps me grounded and what keeps me strong.”
Fasline refuses to make jokes about religion or God out of respect for his beliefs, and he also eschews joking about politics. He credits that decision to sage advice he received from another comic at what many consider America’s best comedy club — the Comedy Cellar in New York City.
“People like comedy to escape the rough parts of their life, so I don’t like to make fun of specific things that people really care about,” Fasline explained. “I’ve definitely become a positive person from my crazy experience. As much as everybody else wants to laugh, I need to hear it just as much. It’s an important part of my life, it’s an escape, it’s therapy, it’s freedom.
“I don’t regret having had cancer, because it made me who I am,” he added. “I wouldn’t have done stand-up. We all go through struggles. Life’s not supposed to be perfect — if it seems so, something’s about to happen.”
To learn more about Vinny Fasline, and see his performance schedule, visit vinnyfasline.com. You can listen to the full interview this article was based upon, from the KRLA 870 AM radio show “Man Up” that Carl Kozlowski co-hosts with Antonio Delgado and Ron Pearson, here.
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