Joe Minjares is starting to feel normal more than a year after his lung transplant.
“I just celebrated one year from that transplant,” brought on by debilitating pulmonary fibrosis, the comedian, actor and playwright told me. “They told me it was going to be a year before I felt like myself and they were absolutely right,” said Minjares, “I feel depressed and [let’s say poopy].”
We both laughed at his joke. I’m guessing he told that joke last week when he performed with comedian Kristin Andersen-Anderson in a show at the New Hope Cinema Grill the called “A Lung Transplant and an Aortic Aneurysm Walk into a Bar.” Andersen-Anderson survived an aortic aneurysm in August.
“I’ve been doing more on- stage stuff,” Minjares said. “It’s been good for me. This whole year has been pretty depressing.”
Q: How painful was the transplant?
A: Painful. My surgeon told me it’s the most painful operation you can get. They gave me a heart-shaped pillow. I said “What is this for, just give me more pain pills.” She said, Naw, you’ll need this. I tell you. I started coughing some of that stuff up from the operation and the first thing I did was grab that pillow because I thought I was breaking apart.
Q: Where do you put the pillow?
A: You clutch it, you hold it. It felt like my chest was breaking. You squeeze it.
Q: On whom would you wish this surgery?
A: Anyone who has COPD because it’s a miracle. I went from doing 20 liters of air a minute, which is a lot, to breathing on my own. When I woke up I had tubes in me and a breathing apparatus on; it was within the next day they took it off and said You’re on your own, pal. It worked.
Q: How are you spiritually?
A: I’ve had a spiritual reawakening. I’m not Bible-thumping or anything like that, but I tell you I am looking at humans differently. They mean more to me. I’ve been driving Lyft to get out of the house and do something [now that he has sold Pepito’s on Chicago Avenue]. Meeting people when I am driving is just spectacular. So then I thought ‘Why don’t I try stand-up again?’ And it’s been great, fun, scary. I don’t remember a damn thing, so I am not sure how much time I can do anymore.
Q: How will your approach to stand-up be different?
A: It’s pretty disjointed because I can’t remember everything. At the same time, I’m more comfortable just talking to the audience, taking my time. I’ll slip a little story in there here and now, not just jokes. I’m basing a lot of stuff on truth. I exaggerate. There’s really nothing off- limits for me.
Q: Before the lung transplant, there were subjects that were off-limits?
A: Yeah. I was real protective of certain things, sexuality. What I’m saying is I’m more willing to talk about my inner secrets than I was. I’ll talk about what it’s like to make love at 70 years old, my memory, I can’t multi-task anymore, and being afraid how this whole thing has affected me. I know it’s affected me mentally and physically but also I’m afraid of talking about how it’s made me take a second look at God and able to joke about it. I wasn’t able to do that.
Q: You didn’t believe in God before but now you do?
A: I believed in God before, but this time I saw him. He’s Mexican. I didn’t know that. He’s got a taco stand. His son, Jesus, works with him. I guess there’s a third son but nobody’s ever seen him. [He laughs.] That is based on a true thing. I remember waking up [two days after surgery] and seeing my best buddy Lenny, sitting on the floor next to me in this darkened room. Keeping vigil. Then I went back out again. Somewhere in the mix I saw my parents. You know they talk about there’s a light and people walk toward the light? My parents were standing in that light, I could see their silhouettes. I could tell it’s them but it was almost like they were saying, Not yet. It was wonderful.
Q: What was the funniest thing that happened in the hospital?
A: When I was out, I was full of drugs. I was in a color cartoon with Anthony Bourdain fleeing from the police. I don’t know what the hell he did. I don’t know what I did.
Q: Did you know Anthony Bourdain?
A: I did in the dream. I was a good buddy of his.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on FOX 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.