More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Stand-up guy hopes laughs will help friends

Last Updated: Sept. 23, 2001
County Lines
Laurel Walker
Wales - Laughing in the face of tragedy - especially now - doesn't seem so easy.

It wasn't easy before Sept. 11, either.

Still, Howard Gleason figured comedy was one way he could help his friends cope with a personal tragedy of their own.

Leslie Schmid, the 33-year-old mother of two little boys, 5 and 2, and wife of Marty, 35, learned last October that she has multiple sclerosis. It's a disease, unpredictable in how it attacks and progresses, that damages the central nervous system and whose symptoms can range from mild tingling and numbness to paralysis and blindness.

Gleason, whose friendship with Marty Schmid dates back to junior high school, decided he needn't feel helpless over the news. He would put his stand-up comedy skills to work in fund raising for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "Makin' funnies and raisin' moneys," he describes it.

Gleason and Marty Schmid are 35-year-old dads who stay home weekdays to take care of their children, then pack most of their 32-hour workweeks at Western States Envelope Co. on the weekends, when their wives are home. When the two aren't working together, they're talking on the phone to each other or socializing together, part of a tight group of couples who enjoy each other's company.

Here and there, Gleason fits in a stand-up comedy act, just for fun.

Gleason started comedy - even took a class in stand-up comedy - at the urging of Marty and Leslie and other friends. They think he's a hoot.

Naturally, Gleason has a comeback for that.

"Marty laughs at everything. I think that's because he doesn't get the jokes and thinks he might miss one that's funny," Gleason says straight-faced in the backyard of his Wales home, where the Schmids have gathered.

Laughter, again. But soon, tears.

Leslie Schmid said she was actually relieved when she learned she had MS. She had feared the numbness in her face, her drooping eye and the seizures that curled her fingers might be due to a brain tumor that would kill her. Those symptoms didn't last entirely, though she fights fatigue, blurred vision and memory loss.

But as she learns more about her disease, the information is sobering.

"It hit me the hardest when I went to the dentist. He said at one point I won't be able to brush my own teeth." Then she realized, "Wow, my husband will have to brush my teeth."

As Leslie Schmid told the story, her husband broke down in sobs and she fought to hold back the tears. On any day, she could wake up with more severe symptoms, including blindness.

"It's hard," she said. Marty Schmid said he fights depression and struggles with the uncertainties of the future. He's turned to counseling to help cope.

A friend helps

The night Marty Schmid learned of his wife's illness, he called Gleason, "crying his eyes out," according to Gleason.

Gleason could do little but listen. But then, after contacting the Multiple Sclerosis Society and researching the disease on the Internet, he learned. And he discovered the need for financial support to benefit research into the cause, treatments and cure of MS.

"A week later, I told Marty I was going to do a fund-raiser," Gleason said.

Make that two fund-raisers.

Gleason said he's found unbelievable cooperation from friends and strangers alike - both in donating halls for the comedy fund-raisers, and in donating raffle and door prizes. Communities, as we've learned so well since Sept. 11, are incredibly generous.

"How-Dog," as Gleason calls himself on stage, has lined up several comedians for the events. This Saturday's at Grainger's Pub & Grill in Greenfield is all but sold out. Raffle tickets are still available at Grainger's or from Gleason, (262) 968-2599.

The Oct. 28 show at Giggles Comedy Pub in Germantown has $10 tickets for a 6 p.m. show and, if that sells out, an 8:30 p.m. show. (Call (262) 437-5653 for reservations.) Door prizes will be given.

Time to laugh

Though the uncertainty of MS has left the Schmids worried about their future and their children's future, they expect to set those worries aside for a laugh or two at How-Dog's prompting. Leslie Schmid said, "I think it's going to be awesome."

Don't look for any jokes about MS, Gleason assures. But for a little while, laughter might be just the thing.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 24, 2001
© Copyright 2001, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel