Vanessa Bayer was the guest of honor at Gilda’s Club NYC’s 24th Annual Benefit Gala on November 7, and for good reason. After battling leukemia in her teen years, the Saturday Night Live alum has used her platform to raise awareness of blood cancer and bone marrow donations. And at the event on Thursday, she exclusively told Us Weekly how her childhood illness led to her career in comedy.
“I think it just put a lot of things in perspective for me and made me realize the healing power of comedy,” Bayer, 37, said at the gala, which was hosted at The Pierre Hotel in New York City. “I wasn’t planning on [getting into comedy] when I was sick, but I think, in retrospect, that’s why I did it.”
The Ibiza actress also praised Gilda’s Club NYC, which was founded in memory of SNL legend Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989. “I’m just so happy to be here,” Bayer said. “It’s an honor to be here with this organization that does great work to support people while they’re going through cancer and their families and everything. And just to be associated with Gilda Radner in any way is special. So it’s an honor.”
Bayer, whose illness inspired her children’s book How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear, previously discussed the connection between her cancer and her comedy in a December 2018 HuffPost interview. “When I was 15 I was diagnosed with ALL ― acute lymphoblastic leukemia ― and so I was treated for about two-and-a-half years,” she said at the time. “It was obviously a difficult thing to go through. I do think surviving something like that definitely affected my sense of humor and made me want to go into comedy because my family, my friends and I all laughed about it a lot.”
“There were just so many funny and interesting and awkward moments when I was sick,” she added. “I think that kind of getting through that made me be able to see funny things in all situations.”
With reporting by Lexi Ciccone