Devin Pike turned one of his darkest moments into one of his brightest achievements. Before founding the annual Who Needs Sleep
telethon, Pike faced his second cancer diagnosis in 2017. It was a reoccurrence of throat cancer, which he'd beaten more than 20 years before. The friends and fans he'd cultivated through his website and podcast about film and his regular fan convention appearances came to his aid when he needed it. He realized that the level of loyalty and support he'd received in his time of need could also help others.
"What happened was, I found out that I don't have a circle of friends but an army," Pike says. "They propped me up, fully supported me through treatment and the aftermath. I decided I wanted to give back to others the way they gave back to me."
The same year, Pike launched the Who Needs Sleep telethon, a 36-hour online broadcast that raises thousands of dollars every year with local cancer charities and groups that provide treatment and support for cancer patients and their families. This year's telethon starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 4 to raise donations that will go to the Hematology & Oncology Center at Cook Children's Fort Worth
The goal is to raise $10,000 just under two days.
"It rattled around in my head for about a week, but I knew I wanted to do a telethon," Pike says. "I'm a sucker for that sort of entertainment mélange, variety shows and telethons. So I fired off a flurry of text messages to the folks I work with the most saying, 'I have an idea.' To their credit, no one told me to bugger off."
Who Needs Sleep host Mark Walters, right, interviews Dallas stage and screen actor Harry Goaz, left, who played Deputy Andy Brennan on the cult TV series Twin Peaks.
courtesy of Who Needs Sleep
In past years, the broadcast has featured live music and comedy from local performers such as Bad Karma, Britainy Goss, Philip Nelson and Not Ur Girlfrenz. This year's roster includes Dallas Cowboys broadcaster Brad Sham, singer Chance Munsterman, comedian Paul Varghese and notable names from outside DFW. Among the latter are prolific cartoon voice actor Rob Paulsen from Animaniacs
and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles;
Shudder horror hosts Joe Bob Briggs and Darcy the Mail Girl; and Mystery Science Theater 3000
and The Mads
movie-riffing comedians Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff.
Who Needs Sleep's longevity has thrived through the crew's ability to overcome personal obstacles. Pike's telethon survived the pandemic, a third reoccurrence of his throat cancer and a serious car accident that happened to Pike just days before the 2018 telethon.
"It's entirely surreal," Pike says. "So much has happened for me and for the organization in the intervening months. In some respects, working on the telethon has been a bit of a comforting anchor. Once we committed to doing the second one in 2018, there has never been any doubt we'd keep doing it. Worlds broke, and we're still putting on the big show."
Pike says he and his crew have learned how to stabilize their nonprofit organization and the annual broadcast from years of learning in the moment. The group signed a deal with the Music City Mall in Lewisville to serve as the telethon's broadcast headquarters for the next five years and amassed an impressive audience of regular viewers and donors to help them reach their financial goals.
"Every dollar we raise is important because we pick beneficiaries who use each cent towards fighting cancer," Pike says. "So we always want to crank up the totals to do the most good."
The drive to keep the telethon going even though personal and public struggles is just as strong as ever, Pike says.
"For me, it's the knowledge that everything we do helps other cancer fighters," he says. "For others on the team like [board of directors president] Rob Ervin and [board of directors vice president] Rachel Wimberly, it's their own experience with cancer fighters in their lives and knowing we're making a difference."