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Tom Green's testicular cancer

Tom Green’s testicular cancer — The comedian turned his real disease into a candid, uproarious TV special

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At first, we didn’t believe him. Why the hell should we? We’re talking about Tom Green, the MTV funnyman with a puckish penchant for stunts — stunts outrageous enough to make Andy Kaufman look like Al Gore. Humping dead animals. Devouring live mealworms with bananas. Interviewing passersby with a mike covered in poop. This was a dude who had, only weeks before, staged an urgent press conference with Monica Lewinsky on the roof of a restaurant, where he proclaimed Ottawa ”the fabric capital of the universe.”

In other words, somewhat unreliable. So when Drew Barrymore’s fiance, then 28, dropped a megaton bomb in March — that he’d been diagnosed with unfunny testicular cancer — what were we to assume? That this was a stroke of Kaufmanesque inspiration? Just another…forgive us here…nutty prank?

It wasn’t. And what the Tom Green Show star did next proved even ballsier. Instead of withdrawing, he opened himself up — literally — with a documentary about his battle with the disease. ”I was feeling really sorry for myself and sitting around with (sidekick) Glenn Humplik and (head writer) Derek Harvie,” recalls the now-healthy Green, ”and we decided it might be a way of getting off the depressing tip…. We were just trying to make a f—ing weird TV show, and all of a sudden people were coming up to us with somber and teary, thankful, handshaking sort of things. And we started to realize that maybe this was actually good, what we were doing.”

Even in the year of Survivor, the frank, gripping, hilarious Tom Green Cancer Special outdid the voyeurs: Tom gets fitted for a burial suit! Tom proudly holds up a cup of his semen! Doctors remove his lymph nodes! Tom debuts his educational check-yourself-at-home ditty (”Hey, kids/Feel your balls/So you don’t get cancer”)! Somehow, in just 60 minutes, the original prankster became a poignant spokesperson. Which is not to say he’s gone all Sally Struthers on us; trauma hasn’t muted his sick sense of humor. ”We did flirt with the idea of coming out and saying the whole thing was a hoax and that I never had cancer,” he admits. ”That actually is the case. I never did have cancer.” Uh-huh. ”I’m serious.” Okay. ”I’m totally serious.” As we said, somewhat unreliable.