The Melbourne-based actor, musician and writer was just 29 years old when doctors told him he had developed stage-four testicular cancer; stage five is terminal.
He says that during his treatment, he went looking for “life’s answers” and trying to understand why this horrible thing had happened to him.
Raised atheist, he didn’t find the answers in the Bible, but rather in reading cancer survivor and ex-professional cyclist Lance Armstrong’s biography.
“He was really like a modern-day messiah to me,” says Tobias.
“A few years ago, if someone asked me: ‘What should I do for a friend going through cancer?’ I’d tell them: ‘Just give them Lance’s book’.”
With inspiration drawn from Armstrong, he found the best way to deal with such devastating news was to find the lighter side in the things he was going through.
“When I was going through cancer, I was always finding ways to deal with it, to laugh at it,” Tobias tells InDaily. “If you didn’t laugh, you would just shrivel up and be a mess.”
His lighthearted attitude surprised his family. His mother questioned his methodology as he danced before going into surgery.
But he says: “I try to always find a lightness and humour in everything in life, and when I do, I think I’m better off for it.”
Tobias sees the performance arts as a way not just to share his passion for comedy and music, but also to help others who might be going through hard times.
“I’d seen a few shows in the Melbourne Comedy Festival that I was really inspired by,” he explains.
“They were all stand-up shows where they were telling very raw stories, but they were also funny, so I took that framework and worked it into my own stuff.”
Working alongside award-winning music comedians Die Roten Punkte, Tobias developed his story into a solo performance piece featuring original songs called The Orchid and the Crow.
He says the show, which has played in Canada and Scotland and is currently at Holden Street Theatres as part of Adelaide Fringe, cannot be described by a single genre such as comedy or cabaret.
“I think there are a lot of performances at the moment that draw on different genres which don’t really fit into one thing or another.
“If there is one particular, say, theme, then it is about faith and I end up having a lot more empathy for all people no matter how they move through tough times.”
In confronting topics such as cancer, Tobias says his comedy comes from how people deal with it and what their expectations are.
“I want it to be a good night out.
“I want it to be entertaining and engaging, and I know I’m dealing with some pretty heavy subjects, but so does Monty Python.”
The Orchid and The Crow is a 75-minute performance piece showing at Holden Street Theatres’ The Studio until March 13.
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