PULLMAN – Comedian Mike DeStafano’s personal story of addiction and disease is no laughing matter. But as a health educator, author and comedian, he knows that humor can help people understand difficult topics.
DeStefano will speak at 7 p.m. on Nov. 2 at Washington State University’s Heald Hall Room G3. He is performing as part of the “Out There” program sponsored by the Whitman County Public Health Department and WSU’s Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center. The program aims to provide the Pullman community with HIV awareness.
While humor helps people understand serious topics such as HIV/AIDS, DeStefano says it also makes it easier for him to speak about his own experiences dealing with alcohol and drug abuse. “By all rights I should have been dead a long time ago,” he said. “By the time I was 18, I was completely strung out and addicted to heroin. It wasn’t what I had planned. It just seemed to happen to me.” He was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1988.
DeStefano eventually realized his life was out of control and sought help. He became a substance-abuse counselor, married and moved to Florida to begin a new life. He became a professional health educator with the Florida Department of Health and hosted a radio talk show there. His wife Fran worked as a director of a substance-abuse treatment center before dying from AIDS in 1995.
Fran’s death forced him to find a unique strength and courage. He expanded his commitment to educating others about HIV and AIDS and the behaviors that often lead to infection. “I made a deal with God,” said DeStefano.
“If he keeps me healthy, I’ll keep trying to help people.”
DeStefano lives in New York City and performs comedy and gives lectures around the country. His presentation at WSU is titled “Wise Words from a Wiseguy.” He said his performance will send college students and others a powerful message about alcohol abuse and unsafe sexual practices. This performance is offered free of charge to the Palouse community through a grant administered by the Whitman County Health Department.