"So, I have leukemia."
The audience is silent, but comedian Heather Snow groans to fill the dead air — the kind of valley girl groan that would have gone over much better when the six-foot-tall beauty still had her long, blond hair. But there she stands on the Comedy Works stage alone. Bald.
"It's okay. I'm gonna be okay, you guys." There's a momentary pause from the crowd, as if waiting for the approval to cheer. Then a wave of applause crashes through the room.
"I wish I was one of those, like, wig people," Snow says as she draws out her joke. "But that's just going to make you guys feel better, and I don't really give a fuck."
Snow and her crowd exhale and allow themselves to laugh together, before the audience breaks away to whistle and cheer for the comedian in one of her last public performances at the comedy club she called home for many years. She performed that bit in August 2015; her final standup set took place last summer at the High Plains Comedy Festival. Heather Snow passed away on December 31, 2016, after an almost year-and-a-half-long battle with leukemia.
"I like people who have a dark point of view and a natural sarcasm on stage, and I immediately liked that about Heather," says fellow comedian Ben Roy. "Off stage, she had a big smile and was quick with a laugh. She was really personable and funny and down-to-earth. [On stage], you saw the darkness of it all. I loved her delivery. That slow sarcasm was so funny to me. She took that and applied it to the hard things in life."
The hard things in life were made visible over the last year and a half of Snow's life, as she very publicly and honestly shared her battle with leukemia on her blog, Living in Six Feet of Snow, and via constant Facebook updates. The chemotherapy, the quarantining, every step of the bone-marrow transplant process (which Snow endured twice as the cancer returned): It all unfolded in Snow's blog posts for her thousands of friends, family and followers to see.
"I was with her on her last day, and I was with her at Justin's [Ranney, Snow's boyfriend] house for the last day she was allowed to be at home. She was fighting me about being admitted [to the hospital] again, and I said, unfortunately, there is no option. You can't be home anymore. It's too dangerous. She had gotten too weak," says Katie Sullivan Poppert, an oncology nurse and director of programs and patient outreach for the Dear Jack Foundation, which works with adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer.
"That was the thing. Publicly, she didn't share a lot of that, because she didn't want people to worry. With her Facebook posts and her blog, she would share things — talk about her biopsies and stuff. But the day-to-day struggle she had, she didn't really portray, especially in those last two weeks when she took a turn.
For her, giving up was not an option. I think that was tough for all of us and the thousands of people following her. Because of her verbiage and because she was so full of life, no one expected her to pass. There was a lot of shock when they learned she had passed," shares Sullivan Poppert.
"I met her as a nurse but ended up falling in love with her as a person and becoming a close friend, because how can you not?"
Before the leukemia took center stage, comedy did. Working in tech by day, Snow took to the microphone by night, trying standup at an open mic in January 2010 at the now-gone Paris Wine Bar at Paris on the Platte. Her friend Emily Chaney, a bartender and booker there, remembers Snow's first foray into comedy.
"She was a great storyteller, and before doing open mics, she did the Narrators a few times," says Chaney. "But she fell in love with comedy and kept working on it through open mics until she started signing up at Comedy Works. We would kick around Denver and go to the open mics together."
Hardly ever without an acquaintance in tow, Snow seemed to collect friends and admirers as a social butterfly whose circles were limitless. "She had her ski crowd; she had her poker friends; she had her yoga buddies; she had her AA group, her comedy friends, her old bar friends, friends from work, friends from the neighborhood, college friends — even friends from high school," says Chaney, who met Snow at a neighborhood poker night hosted by Gallop Cafe in Potter Highlands, where the friends both lived at one point.
"There was so much ease in our friendship," says fellow comedian Kristin Rand. "When I moved to Denver and went to my first open mic, Heather was one of the first people to come up to me after I did a set. She was so tall and beautiful, and I was very intimidated by her — I thought she was a model. I just couldn't believe she was talking to me, really. She told me I was really funny and said, 'You should do my show.'"
That show was Ladies Laugh-In, a comedy night Snow created in 2010 at the now-closed Beauty Bar and would eventually hand over to Rand. While Ladies Laugh-In put the spotlight on women in Denver's comedy scene, Snow made sure it was an equal-opportunity room.
"I did [Ladies Laugh-In] a couple of times, and it was a scene unto itself," says Roy. "She was a terrific voice for female comics, but I hate dwindling it down to gender. She was just a voice for good comics in general in Denver."
The scene within the scene created by Snow reverberated out into the larger comedy community. Rand says after word of Snow's passing began circulating, comics were posting across social media that Snow's vision for inclusiveness was what brought many of them to the stage in the first place.
"She gave everyone a sense of openness and affection; you didn't have to earn it with her," says Rand. "She wasn't the kind of person you had to pass some sort of test with. She gave so many women that opportunity to perform."
Her storytelling took off on the stage and on the page. She broadcast her life in real time via Facebook, typing away from a bariatric bed she had ordered at the hospital because the extra three inches gave her six-foot-tall frame the illusion of comfort. Whether it was spinning tales of growing up in Sandusky, Ohio, her recent years of sobriety or her battle with cancer, Snow's was an unfiltered approach to her life-as-art.
"I think this is frankly just generational in terms of her age group, but her standup was very personal," says fellow comedian, friend and caregiver Nora Lynch. "Her comedy was more storytelling than joke-telling. The thing about her work was that it was about her. It wasn't observational."
Lynch and a handful of others who knew Snow will say that for as much as she spoke publicly about painful truths, she was far from superhuman.
"I don't think people know this, but Heather was relatively shy," says Lynch. "She could be very outgoing and vivacious and share all of the details of things, but she was very shy with her feelings."
"I saw many sides of her. This is a woman who was comfortable digging in the dirt in the garden. She was a Sandusky girl, as regular as a glass of milk. She was marvelous in that way," says Phil Palisoul, another comedian and close friend who took on the role of caregiver for Snow. "It was really her sense of humor that saved her embattled spirit. I mean, I think that goes for comedians on the whole, but she was intuitive in that way. She dug into her psyche in the way that few do."
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"She would wear high heels, and she was six feet tall," says Lynch. "She was an Amazon woman in these gargantuan heels that made her six-foot-four or six-foot-five. And she was just gorgeous. She had a smile that lit up the state. The camera loved her. Heather had a face that caught light, and of course she knew all of that. She was not a stupid girl."
"I think one of her other good friends said to me recently, 'It's sad, because we feel like she was just starting her life,'" says Chaney. "She was just starting her life and accepting herself. I've always said she was a young soul on this planet. It was her first time around, and it was a frustrating quality of her to me. But it was also the naiveté of that which was a beautiful thing about her. It's what allowed her to fight this battle in such a pure way — because she believed."