Mike Wally Walter subscribes to the old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
A comedian for 35 years, Walters is laughing in the face of cancer. During treatments for a recurrence of bladder cancer, the comic has kept the medical staff in stitches while honing new material centered around the disease.
Walter will headline a Cancer Awareness Comedy Night Thursday at 40 Taps in Pendleton. Nick Theisen will open the show. Tickets are $10 each.
A bit of a class clown in high school, Walter was a blue collar worker at Georgia Pacific, where he worked for 14 years. He was vice president of the local union and a shop steward.
After an on-the-job injury, Walter found himself out of a job. Prior to the injury he had been dabbling in stand-up comedy, performing at open mic shows.
At age 30, Walter got his start in comedy after placing second in a contest in Olympia, Washington. Calling him a natural, the contest emcee encouraged Walter to hit the open mics in Seattle to hone the craft. Walter’s first stop was The Comedy Saloon on Aurora Avenue. Although his name was called twice, he never made it to the stage.
“A heckler was just tearing the comedians apart,” Walter recalled. “I had nothing for hecklers and I didn’t go up.”
He went home and wrote material in response to hecklers and returned the next week. Walter convinced the club’s management to give him another shot.
For a number of years Walter’s friends ribbed him, saying he looked like a cross between Jonathan Winters and Don Rickles.
“And then I lost my hair and people said, ‘You look like Don Rickles,’” Walter said.
The two comedians, along with Buddy Hackett, have long been an inspiration to Walter. He added a Rickles act, which includes quick wit and impromptu dialogue with audience members. Walter has always enjoyed interacting with the crowd as part of his show.
“It takes a long time to achieve that. I’ve got stuff in my head that I can respond with — that’s become my forte,” the comic said.
A career highlight, Walter said, was a year-long stint at Harrah’s in Laughlin, Nevada. He performed a Don Rickles tribute as the comedy star of “Showgirls.” It was featured on A&E and HBO. Also, he’s won awards for his Rickles act at the Sunburst Convention of Celebrity Impersonators in Florida.
Walter also enjoyed performing for American troops in Kuwait and Iraq. The 20-day tour in 2006 featured three shows a day. Walter and two other comedians were transported by a Black Hawk helicopter to the different bases.
Being politically incorrect is a staple in his act. Not much is off limits on the comedy stage. However, for Walter, there’s one line he won’t cross.
“Rape jokes,” he said. “I don’t find rape jokes funny.”
Even with five ex-wives, Walter said he doesn’t really pick on women.
“I don’t berate woman at all in my act — not even my ex-wives. And they deserve it,” he said with a chuckle.
Performing stand-up hasn’t changed much over the years, Walter said, including the pay.
“They raised the price of drinks and food. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the entertainers still get crap money.”
Walter didn’t have insurance during his first bout with cancer. However, his comedian family came through for him. Performing free, the comedians raised nearly $5,000 on Walter’s behalf during a show at the Lucky Eagle Casino in Rochester, Washington.
Now covered through Obamacare, Walter said it has been a mixed blessing.
“They’ve found more things wrong with me since I got insurance,” he quipped.
However, Walter remains positive, saying he’s going to beat the cancer. And one things for sure — he’ll be laughing all the way.