Lisa Markwell: What's so funny about cancer? A lot actually

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The Independent Online

The C word. Not, this time, Christmas or that profanity that rhymes with the Culture Secretary. The C word I'm talking about is cancer.

Normally talked about in the special hushed tones reserved for horrible, unspeakable (well, near unspeakable, obv) events, cancer is in danger of losing its terrifying power. And it's thanks to a film that opens tonight in the UK. 50/50 is a comedy from the team behind Superbad, the college gross-out film that made a star of Jonah Hill and featured the eternally funny Seth Rogan as a dumbo policeman.

Now Rogan has co-written a gross-out comedy about cancer with his friend Will Reiser, who had a brush with the big C himself. Rogan stars as the best friend of "Adam", who's given – you've guessed it – a 50/50 chance of surviving the disease.

I expect there will be plenty of people who'll get their pants in a twist about making a joke of such a serious subject but to them I say, no one cares what you think.

It is those who have had cancer who get to choose whether its funny or not. (BTW, please don't ever say "battled" in relation to cancer, it suggests that the ability to "win" is the patient's and if you don't battle hard enough you'll die. Now that's gross.)

Anyhoo, back to the film. Adam breaks the news to his best friend, Kyle, who reacts with shock and horror (so far, so predictable). But after shaving his head with Kyle's body trimmer – eeeew – the men head out to a club. Kyle convinces Adam that "I've got cancer" is an excellent pick-up line. Cue a toe-curlingly funny scene.

You get the idea. This is dark, dark comedy – it subverts the whole Love Story schmaltz and, by the way, hands out a lot of useful info about cancer, its causes and treatment, along with the humour.

This week a New York commentator called for doctors to stop using the C word altogether. I agree. Patients getting a diagnosis stop hearing anything else once "cancer" is out there; like, if it's not too heretical, a dog who hears "blah blah walk blah blah". Clear, unvarnished, uneuphemistic language, please.

And what entitles me to be so judgmental? I've been the baldie discussing the odds with the oncologist. I was desperate for people not to put on a soft, special voice when they spoke to me, or avoid talking about fun stuff, in case it upset me.

On Monday, the brilliant cancer charity Macmillan celebrates its centenary with a gala show at the London Palladium. I hope there are gags aplenty. There's funny and funny, of course. Nobody wants to hear from the tin-earred Jimmy Carr on the subject.