Humans of the U: Jeff Metcalf

“In 2006 I was invited to be one of the readers at City Art, an author’s venue that brings outstanding writers from all over the country to the downtown library and I brought with me two very different pieces. I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to read so I brought both of them up onto the stage.

One piece was a short comedic story about a pathological liar and the other was a rather dark essay about the beginning of my journey through prostate cancer. The obvious choice was the comedy, right? I mean, I knew it. I knew what the crowd would like to hear but at the last moment I ended up selecting the essay about cancer.

When I was done reading the essay the audience was absolutely quiet and I chastised myself for the selection. And then the audience erupted in unison with a standing ovation and applause that seemed to go on forever. It had been the right choice.

Sitting in the audience was a dramaturg from Salt Lake Acting Company and he asked me if I thought it would be possible to write a play about cancer that included the sort of gallows humor he’d heard in my reading. When I said I thought I could do it, he commissioned me on the spot and that, as they say, became history.

Now, ‘A Slight Discomfort,’ has been performed in 12 different U.S. cities and four foreign countries. In March, it premiered in Denmark for a full-year tour and soon it will move on to other Scandinavian countries.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death among men so my hope is that men will see the play and then talk with each other about their own health issues.

I’m currently working on two new plays and putting a novel to bed with a publisher. I’m very excited about the novel (fiction) called ‘Wacko’s City of Fun Carnival.’ It is loosely based on my own experience of running away from home at 15 and a half and joining a traveling carnival.

As my mother always told me, ‘How could somebody be born on Halloween, in a cab, in San Francisco and not have an interesting life?’ And, she was absolutely correct.”

—Jeff Metcalf, professor of English and director of Humanities in Focus

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.