Freetown firefighter Mark Lawrence must have nerves of steel.

Not only does he run into burning buildings for his day job, he’s found himself a new side gig, standing on stage and telling jokes as a stand-up comedian.

So which is scarier?

“I love attention and I have an overly inflated ego, so I love being the center of attention on stage, so probably being in a burning building is scarier for me,” Lawrence said in an appearance on WBSM. “I love the spotlight, love the attention, love making people laugh.”

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Lawrence is competing for the title of “America’s Funniest Firefighter” and a $5,000 grand prize as part of an upcoming event to benefit Firefighters vs. Cancer, an organization that raises funds to help firefighters who have been afflicted with the disease.

The event is Friday, May 17 at Florian Hall in Dorchester; Lawrence will be competing against four other Massachusetts firefighters and one from Maine.

Firefighters vs. Cancer is a non-profit organization, helping the nearly 40 percent of firefighters working today that will be diagnosed with cancer during their careers.

“There’s a high rate of cancer in the firefighter world,” Lawrence said. “The actual gear that we use in the immediate present from being burnt up in buildings is actually slowly killing us over time.”

Courtesy Mark Lawrence
Courtesy Mark Lawrence

“It’s been proven that the chemicals that are used in the process to produce equipment does, in fact, cause cancers,” he said. “The fires themselves today, with all the composite materials and all that, the fires burn different. They make all kinds of what we call ‘free radicals,’ all kinds of nastiness gets into the gear and gets into our skin as well.”

Lawrence, a Rochester resident, joined the Freetown Fire Department in 2019. He started his career as an on-call volunteer firefighter in Rochester in 2012, a position he still holds. He said his love for firefighting and comedy both came from hanging around the firehouse when he was younger, as his father was also a firefighter.

“Most of what they would do was just stand around and bust each other’s chops, make each other laugh,” Lawrence said. “There’s a little bit of humor found in every fire department, so I think being exposed to that at a young age piqued my interest in being funny.”

Lawrence said he feels like he’s “been funny forever,” but he never really thought about trying out stand up comedy until he got an email regarding the Firefighters vs. Cancer comedy event.

“They were looking for people interested in trying their hand at some comedy,” he said. “You had to submit a short video, so I submitted a video and I was chosen. Myself and five others of my firefighter brethren, we’re going to be out there trying to make everybody laugh and raise money for a good cause along the way.”

Courtesy Mark Lawrence
Courtesy Mark Lawrence

Lawrence has been taking part in a few Open Mic nights to hone his craft, and is receiving mentorship from Boston comedy legend Tony V, who will also emcee the charity event.

“He’s kind of a big deal, and he’s very funny,” Lawrence said. “He’s given me some really good feedback.”

Lawrence said he’s been working hard on his set, and has “overhauled it a few times now” as he seeks to find the balance between having inside humor that only firefighters will understand along with jokes that the everyday person will find funny.

“People from both worlds will find it very entertaining and funny,” he said.

As great as it will be to raise money to fight cancer, Lawrence also has his eyes set on the grand prize as well as the “America’s Funniest Firefighter” title, as he now looks to continue on with comedy even after the event.

“I suspect I will continue on doing this,” he said. “I don’t really have any hobbies except for overtime, so I think this will be a healthy alternative to that.”

Courtesy Mark Lawrence
Courtesy Mark Lawrence

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