Lacey teen organizes comedy show to benefit cancer research

At 14, Jacob Johnson of Lacey started a nonprofit to raise money for childhood cancer research.

At 17, he produced and performed in a comedy show at the Capitol Theater, then quickly started a production company to continue putting on comedy shows.

Now 18, the Timberline High School senior is combining his two passions into what could be his biggest show yet: Stand Up for a Cure, a benefit for the nonprofit with headliner Andrew Rivers of Seattle, who last month flew to Los Angeles for a callback for NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.”

Also on the lineup for Saturday’s show are Seattle comedians Narin Vann and Mike Coletta.

The performers are donating their time for the benefit, which will raise money for Rhema’s Reality, the nonprofit Johnson started after meeting Rhema Butler of Lacey, then 14, at Capital Christian Center.

“I asked her, ‘What school do you go to?’ and she said, ‘I don’t go to school because I have cancer,’ ” Johnson said. “I went to the bathroom, and I went into a stall where I could cry, and I called my mom. To hear someone say at my age that she had cancer was just terrifying.”

He knew right away that he wanted to help and thought of raising money. Rhema liked the idea of raising money for childhood cancer research at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she was being treated.

Three days later, Johnson had made a YouTube video ( youtu.be/KJq6834LaPo) outlining his plan to begin a nonprofit, which he and Rhema did.

Rhema died five months later, in June 2011, but fundraising has continued in her memory. Johnson aims to bring the total raised to $30,000 by the time he graduates from high school. Saturday’s show might do it.

It’s been a year since he produced his first comedy show, which was backstage at the Capitol Theater and featured a bunch of his friends, many of them also Timberline students.

He simply approached funny friends and suggested they try stand-up. “I talked them into writing stuff,” he said. “To this day, that is the best show we’ve had. It was unbelievable.”

These days — in between acting in high school plays and hanging out with friends — he’s producing the pros on the main stage. And he’s joining them, too: He’ll do a short set at Saturday’s show.

He finds comedians by attending open-mic nights and other shows, and through word of mouth. When he saw Rivers perform, “I thought he was hysterical,” he said.

Johnson is not alone in that opinion. The self-deprecating Rivers was proclaimed “the next big thing” by Fox TV’s “Laughs”; he’s appeared twice on the show, which airs only in select markets. (Watch online at youtube.com/user/LaughsTVShow/videos.)

He has performed across the country and in Canada, and has opened for the likes of Mike Birbiglia. Among other gigs this month, he’s headlining the Tacoma Comedy Club Dec. 26-28.

Although he’s the son of longtime Seattle DJ Bob Rivers, who retired in August, Andrew Rivers didn’t plan a career in comedy. “Nobody ever told me that you could make money at it,” he said last week.

To his surprise, it turned out he could. He got started in stand-up six years ago, after getting laid off from a marketing job. He had difficulty finding another job, and it started to get him down.

“After a couple of months, my dad pulled me aside and said, ‘Just find a hobby,’ ” Rivers said.

He chose stand-up comedy and loved it. He soon found paying gigs — at least enough to match what he’d been receiving in unemployment benefits.

“It came to the point where I didn’t want to look for another job,” Rivers said.