Michael Shafar: armed and dangerously funny

Michael Shafar growing a mo for Movember. Image: supplied.

Michael Shafar is in remission from cancer and doing well. He lost a testicle but not his sense of humour, and while his Movember moustache might look more like a gag prop, he’s serious about raising money for men’s health. Arts editor Rita Bratovich caught up with Shafar on the eve of his new show. 

“It’s pretty bad when you’re halfway through the month and people still can’t tell that you’re doing it.” Michael Shafar is talking about Movember and his unconvincing mo. At least it’s good for a laugh. 

Movember is charity event that encourages men to grow a moustache during the month of November to raise awareness around men’s health issues, in particular, prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health. It’s a cause close to Shafar’s heart. 

“My personal experience is just the importance of research … I’m very grateful for all the treatments that exist to treat testicular cancer that I wouldn’t have available to me if people hadn’t funded trials and research previously,” he says. 

Shafar advocates strongly for open discussion around cancer and men’s health. He himself has been on television, radio and in print talking candidly about dealing with testicular cancer. The subject also features frequently in his comedy routines. 

“I know that cancer’s still got a stigma to it in the sense that it’s not something that people feel comfortable discussing publicly … which I think is a shame because I think it needs to be normalised so that people are comfortable talking about it openly and there’s more awareness and hopefully things get caught earlier,” says Shafar.

Michael Shafar, clean shaven. Image: supplied.

Comedy, in particular, has a disarming affect that makes the subject matter less confronting. Shafar often has men come to him after a show to share their own experience with testicular cancer. In fact, cancer survivors in general tell him how much they appreciate the way his humour and candour has helped them.  

Shafar tackles other important (and not so important) topics in his comedy as well, and the year has been bountiful in providing material. Vaccine hesitancy, lockdowns, masks, mandates, the supposed violation of human rights by our governments in terms of Covid rules and regulations. 

“I always find that’s kind of funny,” says Shafar. “It just shows how little people know about oppression. When people have never had oppression, the slightest inconvenience feels like oppression. I find that a rich vein to make fun of.”

Obviously it’s a divisive subject and Shafar tries to keep it neutral or at least balanced, although he argues that only fully vaxxed people would be sitting in the audience anyway. 

“I don’t think comedy should be about forcing a point of view on someone, I think it should just be about making them laugh at themselves or at others.”

Shafar’s partner will be making a cameo appearance in this show – but only within the material. 

“We’ve been trapped in a house for a while now and somehow we’re still together which is very exciting. So she gets a mention in the way we’ve navigated lockdown together.”

It’s something many people will be able to relate to. 

If you’re wondering about the headline of this article, it’s a pun on a bizarre meme involving Shafar. He stumbled upon a post by an anti-vaxxer who was selling prosthetic arms to people who wanted to fake getting vaccinated. He made a brief TikTok video about it and that then got picked up by the Daily Mail, which published a story on it. 

The story quickly circulated and evolved and somehow found its way into Chinese media in a mutated version: “Melbourne comedian selling fake arms to anti-vaxxers”. 

It’s all grist for the mill. 

Shafar, like so many other artists, felt the weight of lockdown and is thrilled to be performing live again.

“I didn’t realise how much my mental health relies on stand-up comedy until it was taken away,” he says. “I’m just trying to enjoy being on stage and not take it for granted.”

Michael Shafar is performing in Sydney at The Factory Theatre, 105 Victoria Street, Marrickville at 7pm Wednesday, November 24 and 7pm Thursday, November 25, 2021. For information and bookings, visit www.michaelshafar.com/shows.

Rita Bratovich is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.