As Funny as a Brain Tumor! Part 1

Over the years I have told this story quite a few times.  At restaurants, friends homes, men’s retreats, camping trips and many other places.   There have been a number of times where I start telling the story to one person and soon find myself surrounded by people all tentatively listening. These attentive listener’s will often interrupt me with eager questions that they just can’t hold in any longer.  “How is that possible?”  “What did you do?”  “Why didn’t you go to the doctor?”  “What did people think?” etc………  People  always seem captivated by this story and I hope that it will someday be on the discovery channel as one of those medical mystery shows.  I’ve even had a number of people tell me that it could be a movie featuring Tom Hanks or Jim Carrey as Steve Neff.  I’m not sure I can imagine that……..,  but in the meantime,  I thought I would share it here on the internet.  I find the story quite entertaining to tell and it is all 100% true.  My goal in sharing my story is not just to entertain but also to perhaps give comfort and hope to others who might be going through their own story. We all have our own stories with our own ups and downs, highs and lows,etc…… and in that we can hopefully all relate and know we are not alone in our struggles.  I always struggle with how to best begin the story…… I guess I should just start…………

Back in the early 90’s (1993-1995 time range) life was good.  I was feeling great about many aspects of my life.  I was 26 years old and was playing the sax full time which had always been my dream and passion.  I was playing a bunch of gigs every week and practicing all the time when I didn’t have a gig.  I had a girlfriend I was crazy about and lots of friends.  I was working out, my health was good, drove a cool Nissan 300ZX sports car and was feeling pretty good about my life.

Around this time,  I started noticing that I was laughing a lot.  I know what you are thinking “That’s good!  You were happy. Life was good. Happy people laugh a lot!”  That is true, but this was a bit different……….Have you ever met somebody who would laugh whenever they were uncomfortable or nervous?  Well that was me.  It started out where I would laugh at odd moments like during a serious conversation or when someone else was upset.  I think the people around me would just write it off as “this guys a little strange………”

As time went on,  my laughing became even worse.  It was now becoming the kind of laughter where I felt like I couldn’t stop.  My whole body would move up and down shaking and I would laugh so hard that I would fall off my chair.  Have you ever laughed that hard?  Well, I was doing it all the time.  Many times a day.  Let me give you a few real life scenarios just so you can understand.

Every time I went to the bank and had to stand in line I would start cracking up.  Just laughing and laughing.  Sometimes there would be other people in line and sometimes I would just be standing there alone.  Either way, it didn’t matter, I would be cracking up laughing.  I would get up to the teller and she would ask me “What are you laughing at?”  I would say  “I don’t know” and just keep on laughing.  Many times this constant laughing would make other people laugh with me so it was kind of funny to see everyone at the bank laughing with me. The tellers at the bank actually named me the “Laughing Boy”.

Another situation that happened all the time is that I would burst out laughing during uncomfortable times in a movie.  I remember going to see “Braveheart” in the theater.  Do you remember that point where Mel Gibson’s wife gets her throat cut and dies……..well, I started cracking up.  Just giggling and trying to hold it in but I couldn’t and then I had to leave the theater because I’m laughing so hard. (when you laugh during points like this in a movie,  people usually think you are a nutcase and they start to wonder if you might be closet serial killer………..) I finally got a hold of myself and went back in.  Do you remember how “Braveheart” ends…….well lets just say I had to leave the theater again and my friends and everyone there was wondering “What is wrong with that guy?”

Another thing that I remember from this time is that I would always loose it in elevators.  I would be standing in an elevator by myself praying no one else would get on. The doors would open and a bunch of people would get on.  It would be quiet and that nice elevator music would be playing.  Then I would start snickering and chuckling as I tried not to laugh.  The people would turn around and look at me and I would apologize.  They would turn back around and I would start laughing again even louder while apologizing repeatedly.  It’s interesting because some people would laugh with me even though they had no idea what I was laughing at.  Some people would get mad.  Some people would start fidgeting and checking their clothes and zippers.  Others would check their backside and shoes looking for toilet paper stuck to their shoes for toilet paper or something because they were afraid I was laughing at them.  Most people would get off the elevator nodding their heads in puzzlement and a few would choose to glare at me like  they were personally offended by my laughter.

Any time i would have any kind of deep and intense conversation with my girlfriend at the time I would just start cracking up.  If she was mad about something I would start laughing.  If she was upset…..I would start laughing.  I had no idea why I was laughing! Most of these times there was nothing funny about it but all I could do was laugh.  Let me just say that this laughing thing did not prove to be a building block for a strong relationship.

One time,  I had a performance appraisal that was given to me by my very over weight boss. ( I worked as a manager in a convenient store in 1995)  As we sat down and he started to talk about my performance I started cracking up.  I was laughing so hard I fell off my chair and couldn’t talk.  That boss of mine got very mad.  I think he thought I was laughing at him because he kept asking me “What are you laughing at?” “Are you laughing at me?”  I would gasp “No” over and over in between the laughter as tears were running down my cheeks.  He left quite mad as I remember. (I did get a great performance appraisal as I remember………)

Another time at this same store, the president of the whole company came in to see me as he toured all of his stores.  He was a pretty serious guy as most millionaire CEO’s are.  Lets just say that I didn’t leave the best impression.  He shook my hand and then watched me laugh for 5 minutes before he left.  Luckily, at that time I had one of the best performing  stores in the area so I think that helped me not to get immediately fired.

I could go on with the stories………I could talk about how I was at a funeral and started laughing and had to leave and walk in front of everyone as I laughed but that one is kind of painful for me so I won’t go into the details of it.   I could talk about the time I was in a church meeting and the preacher was talking about people “going to hell”  and I started cracking up.  He asked me what was so funny as I continued to laugh.  I didn’t have an answer for him so then he proceeded to make his lesson about how “People going to hell” is not a laughing matter and if you think it’s funny you should not be going to a church meeting. (I stopped going to those Sunday night church meeting after that)

I’ll continue with the rest of this story next time. There’s much more to it so check back later…………..Part 2

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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 25 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. Hi Steve – I was worried about you back then and really thought you were simply losing it. Most of the stories above I’m now hearing for the first time. The times we spent on gigs, though, went from wonderful to strange and we didn’t know what to make of it. I have my memories of how you came to be diagnosed, but will wait to see what you post about that so as not to spoil this fascinating story. You are a miracle man, Steve, and I’m so glad you’re here to tell about it.

  2. I remember being on those gigs and I couldn’t even play through a solo without stopping and laughing. At first it was funny but after awhile it was just annoying. I haven’t gotten to that point in the story but Jeff C. in the band was really the one who helped me the most and got me to get medical attention. I’m still very grateful to him for that.

  3. Sean Kelly says:

    Hey Steve, this was all a huge WOW! as I haven’t been in touch since HS. Didn’t know any of it, and am eagerly awaiting the rest of the story. Fascinating, really! And I too am glad you’re around to tell the story yourself.

    [edge of my seat Man!]

  4. Steve,

    Interesting story. This certainly waxes the theory that laughter is the best medicine… I can’t wait to hear how this ends

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