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Written by Elias Stimac


Jim Tooey Uses His Acting, Writing Skills and Sense of Humor To Dramatize a Life-Threatening Experience

Among all the productions in this year’s 11th annual New York International Fringe Festival, one of the most intriguing titles is “Two-mur Humor: He's Malignant; She's Benign.” The humorous, heartfelt play is written by Jim Tooey and Valerie David, directed by Charles Messina, and stars Jim Tooey and Kelly Chippendale. A World Premiere from The Present Company and The Tumor Humor Fund, the play will run August 10th- August 26th. For tickets visit www.FringeNYC.org, or call 212-279-4488 or 1-888-FringeNYC.

This multi-character comedic drama is inspired by the real-life experiences of Valerie David's diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and Jim Tooey's pituitary brain tumor. The play follows their personal struggles on the road to recovery as well as their crazy and hilarious experiences. Their life-affirming stories are told through the eyes of two characters, Paul and Lisa. We follow their amazing journey through wacky hospital roommates, health insurance debacles, and experiences with family and friends.

Jim Tooey will be seen onscreen this fall as Detective Russ in “The Jackson Avenue Hustle.” He portrayed Tony the Hit Man in “Running Scared” with Paul Walker and Chazz Palminteri, appeared in Matthew Barney’s “The Cremaster 3,” and portrayed a prisoner in Susan Stroman's movie version of Mel Brooks' “The Producers.” Other credits include “The Guiding Light,” “Late Night with Conan O'Brien,” “One Life To Live,” “The Sopranos,” and “Law and Order.”

Tooey also helped establish a non-profit organization, the Tumor Humor Fund, with Kelly Chippendale, Valerie David and Yvonne Sayers. The mission of Tumor Humor is to help children and their families affected by cancer relieve the debt associated with medical bills. Visit www.tumorhumor.org for more details.

The actor grew up in the Northeast, although his upbringing wasn’t always the source of positive memories. “My childhood started in a tough neighborhood in Jersey City, NJ where I attended Catholic school and had to deal with abusive nuns. I was the oldest of four kids. My family moved to Lyndhurst, NJ at age 12, where I attended Sacred Heart and Lyndhurst High School. During those years, I played football and wrestled. Later, I went on to William Paterson University and that’s where I began to study acting.”

His love for TV and film led him to pursue acting as a career. “I went into acting because I always loved making people laugh. I always loved to watch comedians such as Jackie Gleason, Abbott and Costello, John Candy, and The Three Stooges.”

Despite his love of comedy, Jim has lived through his share of tragedy as well. He is a nine-year pituitary brain tumor survivor. Fortunately, Tooey’s acting assignments became a cathartic outlet during his recovery.

“I was basically on my couch for a year,” Tooey relates. “I was incapacitated from a staph infection that occurred after I had ACL scope around the same time. They needed to give me a knee replacement because of the infection that settled into the bone. Funny enough, I was watching the first season of Sopranos and I said, ‘I'm getting on that show.’ David Chase, believe it or not, got me motivated again. I did end up getting on the show during the third season, was offered lines here and there, and this last four seasons was doing alternate stand-in work for James Gandolfini and Steve Schirripa.”

Writing about his health episode also helped the healing process. “I decide to write the play when I met Valerie David at The Casting Director Awards in 2001 in New York City. We both found out that we had tumors, and we wanted to tell our stories. It felt good to get it all out of me and onto paper.”

Once the project was accepted into the Fringe Festival, casting the show was easy. Tooey was the ideal candidate for the male lead, and when looking for someone to play his female counterpart, he didn’t stray too far from home. “My girlfriend Kelly Chippendale is playing the female lead. She has done stand-up comedy for the last four years and our first date was at New York Comedy Club's open mic. She has also been a collaborator on the play for the last two years and also a big part of starting The Fund to help children. With our age difference, we feel we can relate to the masses and draw a lot of attention. At home, some of the classic comedy characters often come out to play! Burns and Allen, Sonny and Cher… and now 2E [Tooey] and Chippendale!”

Tooey is honored to be working with veteran director Charles Messina. “I was introduced to Charles through Danny Roth of CastingHouse, my former director from a pilot I did called ‘Taylor Made’ that is currently being shopped in LA and can be seen on YouTube. Charles has a film and stage background, which was what I was looking for to stage this multi-media play. He is great to work with. His work is incredible! He wrote and directed ‘Freddie Mercury’, a one-man show about Queen's frontman, and his Jackie Onassis one-woman show has been running for the last five years. One thing I was really impressed with was his reality theater experience, ‘The Great Divide,’ a show he wrote and directed where different endings are voted on by the audience and then performed by the cast each night.”

Out of the 11 characters Tooey portrays in “Two-mur Humor,” including men and women of varying ages, he says there’s one that stands out as being very difficult and emotional. “I play a character named Iris. She is the most challenging because she is suffering with throat cancer-which is close to home as Messina’s mother is a throat cancer survivor.”

Not content to rest upon his stage laurels, Tooey also recently performed in a film that enjoyed an auspicious debut in the Big Apple. “My most recent film work was premiered at Tribeca Film Festival called ‘The Gardener of Eden,’ directed by Kevin Connolly and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.” He also had an action-packed time working on “Running Scared” with Paul Walker and Chazz Palminteri and directed by Wayne Kramer. “That was my most exciting film experience, because it was filmed in Czech Republic and I got my head blown off with a shotgun.”

Along with the play, Tooey is also proud of the Tumor Humor Fund he helped develop.

“We started The Tumor Humor Fund about four years into the writing process. I saw many plays open and close in New York and I believed that this play had life beyond a couple of performances. I came up with the idea of doing it to help children and to market the Fund. It is also educational and inspiring with hopes to start performing arts programs.”

The actor/writer has similar goals for both the play and The Fund. “The goal is to inspire, make people laugh, look on the bright side of things, and help people who are dealing with cancer and other illnesses. I'd love to show up at people's doorsteps with a check to pay off their entire medical bill. Health care can be tough these days for most. So it’s all about staying positive.”

Tooey has some straightforward advice for other cancer survivors. “Laugh. Be positive. Believe in tomorrow. Reach out to others. Smile.” He also has some words of wisdom for aspiring actors and writers in NYC. “It's all about marketing. Market yourself and you will stand out in the crowd.”

Armed with a new outlook on life, Tooey has some reflective insights about working as an actor/writer in New York City. “It is busy and can be hectic too, but it is the greatest feeling in the world when you are working and the most challenging feeling in the world when you are not. One day it's chicken, the next day, feathers.”

(Elias Stimac is a writer/performer currently working on video productions in South Florida. Send feedback to backstagewriter@aol.com)

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