Meet Sickboy, the comedy podcast that’s changing the way we think about illness (and life)

Sickboy is not your standard medical podcast.

In fact, even though it has over 2 million total downloads, and write-ups in the Guardian, Vice, and the BBC, they didn’t get there by talking about sickness cautiously.

In Sickboy, you’ll find no stiff advice from doctors, or buttoned-up discussions about diseases and treatments. The podcast’s hosts Jeremie Saunders, Brian Stever, and Taylor MacGillivary want none of that. Their show is for people to talk about what it’s really like to live with disease (and for its hosts to tell a few R-rated jokes along the way).

It’s safe to say that Sickboy, which has been on Patreon since 2016, is a health-centric podcast unlike any other you’ve heard before.

How Sickboy uses humour to open up a dialog about normally taboo topics

Rather than having a health-based podcast solely featuring doctors or experts, most of the guests on Sickboy know the medical industry from the other side of the clipboard.

Guests go on Sickboy to talk about their experiences with a range of medical ailments, from mental illnesses like schizophrenia or eating disorders, to living life without a pulse (you read that right).

And how do the hosts break the ice with guests about such personal topics? They do it with comedy.

With humour, the Sickboy hosts provide an authentic environment for their guests to share intimate and life-affirming stories about living with illness. And, as a listener, whether you’re “healthy” or not, the result is liberating, educational, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

“It’s not funny to be sick. But there’s humour within the human experience of living with illness,” said Brian Stever, one of the hosts of the Sickboy podcast. “The humour is really just the tool to get to the real meat of the conversation, which is the human experience of being sick.”

Living with cystic fibrosis

Jeremie Saunders, the brainchild of Sickboy, has something in common with the guests of the podcast — he’s living with a disease, too.

Jeremie lives with cystic fibrosis (or CF), a disease that mostly affects his lungs, (but it affects other organs in his body, as well).

In between recording episodes of Sickboy, Jeremie said he takes 50 pills a day (“most of that is in order to keep my digestive system working properly”). Plus, he spends around two hours a day using a nebuliser, a machine which turns liquid medicine into vapour to keep his lungs functioning properly.

Because he lives with CF, Jeremie knows that talking about disease can sometimes make people feel awkward. So, with Sickboy, the co-hosts use Jeremie’s uncomfortable experiences to create a roadmap of how not to have a conversation about sickness.

“[When] I’m going to sit down and talk to someone who has terminal t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma…I know that, yo — you’re probably dying to talk about this shit. So I’m here. Let’s do this. Let’s take it wherever you want to take it,” said Jeremie.

How did these creators come up with the idea for Sickboy?

The idea for Sickboy was born out of a place of frustration for Jeremie. In 2015, Jeremie had hit a wall in his career as an actor in film and television when the slashing of a film-tax credit in Nova Scotia, “basically dried up all the film and television work in Halifax.”

“I was going through this pretty deep bout of depression because I came to realise pretty quickly that I’m a creative, driven person. I felt like I had wasted all this time in my life, pouring all this energy into this thing that I love — yet, I need to rely on so many other people to do the thing that I have such a deep passion for.”

Luckily soon after, Jeremie was inspired to start a podcast when he heard a talk by the Canadian podcaster and film director Kevin Smith.

“I just remember [Smith] saying, ‘podcasting is the perfect form of creative expression…,’” Jeremie said. “Because every single person in this auditorium has a cell phone, and everybody in this auditorium has an idea or a topic or a subject that they are passionate about. So you take those two things and you put them together, and right there, you have a podcast.”

As Jeremie sat in his seat, listening to the talk, he was struck with an idea for a new kind of podcast.

“I’ve got a topic I can talk about,” Jeremie remembered thinking. “I live with a chronic and fatal disease, and I have found humour in that experience for my entire life.”

The pressures of being an independent creator

Since then, Sickboy has published 195 episodes (to date). The podcast gets 100,000 unique downloads per month and has close to 10,000 followers on Facebook. And, because of their large listenership, the hosts feel a real responsibility to publish thoughtful, weekly content for their fans, many of whom are going through illnesses of their own.

Despite holding day jobs outside of the podcast, the trio have only missed their goal of releasing a weekly episode once (and that was on Christmas).“So instead of actually putting an episode out…I did a recording of reading the Grinch and put that out instead.”

“If we get to a point where — shit, we’re two days away from Monday, and we don’t have an episode…then we just do whatever it takes,” said Jeremie. “And we provide that on that coming Monday because we’ve made a promise to tens of thousands of people that that’s what we’re going to provide.”

Still, despite all the time and effort the show takes, the podcasters enjoy the conversations they have on Sickboy so much that it hardly feels like work to them.

“The thing that’s most important to me is the fact that I look forward to every single conversation,” said Brian. “And I look forward to spending time with Taylor and Jeremie and meeting new people, so it doesn’t feel like work…it’s like, how do we find the time to do more of that and less of the other stuff?”