Credit: Janet Van Ham/HBO

In anticipation of his HBO comedy special (Thursday at 10 p.m. ET), EW talked to Quincy Jones — the 32-year-old aspiring comedian who became a viral sensation after appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in March. Jones was diagnosed with stage-4 mesothelioma cancer last year and was given a year to live.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get your name?

QUINCY JONES: I was scared at an open mic that one of my ex‑girlfriends was going come because she said she was going to boo me if I wasn’t funny. So, I put down my name as Quincy Jones so she wouldn’t figure out it was me.

Talk about your diagnosis.

I went in at the end of 2014. My stomach is filled up with ascites, which is fluid in the body. It’s supposed to be circulating to organs but it was backed up in my belly and we didn’t know why. After about six or seven months of testing, that’s when we came up with the diagnosis that I had cancer. A few months later, they gave me the prognosis of a year. That’s when I was like, “Nah, I think I’m going ignore that. I don’t think I’m going to die in a year. I can’t see myself withering away on August 6, 2016.” So, when I got out of the hospital, I did what I needed to do to fight the cancer, which is chemotherapy. Changing my diet. Like, there was almost a desperation for me to survive. And that’s what I did.

You created a Kickstarter page to raise money for your own comedy special.

Our goal originally was $5,000 and we blew past that to $50,000.

Before appearing on Ellen, where did you think the special would air?

I was hoping Netflix or Comedy Central. HBO was like the Holy Grail.

What was your initial thought when Ellen booked you after hearing about your Kickstarter campaign?

My initial thought was shock because at first I didn’t believe it was the segment producer saying those things. I thought it was like a friend or something playing a prank on me. [On the show], she turned to the camera and said, “Hey HBO, Netflix. You guys are watching this. Please do something for this guy.” I was like, “Oh, wow, that was nice,” because that wasn’t what they prepared me for in the interviews. That was off the script. A week later, HBO wants to do it. I was like, “What? Are you serious?”

Has your illness provided you with new material?

I don’t even really acknowledge my cancer. I know sometimes my energy drops, sometimes I’ll get really tired or sad. I’ll know that it’s because of the cancer. But other than that I just don’t.

What material do you feel comfortable joking about?

I’m an observational type guy, poking fun at stuff or making dark stuff funny.

After the cancer diagnosis, how have you changed as a comic?

It just makes me a little more grateful. It makes me a little less judgmental of comedy. People are just trying. Everyone’s just trying to get by out there.

For more about Quincy Jones and his HBO special, pick up the newest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or available here. Subscribe now for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.