A Q&A With Comedian, TV Star Matt Iseman About Living With RA

Iseman Gave Up Medical Career for Stand-Up Comedy

Matt Iseman, comedian and TV celebrity, has rheumatoid arthritis.
Photo @ Matt Iseman

Matt Iseman has a unique life story. He had a successful career underway as a doctor, but switched gears to become a stand-up comedian. Around the same time, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

In 2002, he was one of 10 comedians selected to perform at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. His first overseas trip to entertain our troops occurred on 9/11 and he made several excursions to entertain the troops after that.

Matt also has been a successful TV host with the following shows among his credits: Scream Play on E!, Casino Night on GSN, Clean House and Clean House Comes Clean on Style, and Sports Soup on Versus. He hosted all but the first season of American Ninja Warrior for G4 and then on NBC. He is the voice of Dumbest Stuff on "Wheels" for the Speed Channel. He hosts a special called "Invisible" for the History Channel, too. Matt's CD "I Want a Happy Ending" has become popular on iTunes. His comedy can also be heard on SiriusXM, Pandora, and other radio stations. And, in 2017, he appears on The Celebrity Apprentice, and has won $50,000 for The Arthritis Foundation by winning the task during week 3 when he was project manager.

We had the opportunity to ask Matt Iseman a few questions that explain why he chose a career in the limelight over life as a doctor. He also shares what helps him cope with rheumatoid arthritis.

Q: How old were you when you were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis?

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) when I was 31 years old. I was born in January 1971 so have had the disease for more than a decade. I had just moved to Los Angeles to pursue comedy and acting and was in the best shape of my life when I started experiencing pain in my hands, which then spread to my feet, neck, and back.

I was tired all the time and sleeping 12 hours a day. I cut out all exercise because of the pain and gained over 40 pounds over the course of a year-and-a-half.

Q: Were you already a doctor when diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis?

Yes, I was licensed as a general practitioner when first diagnosed. It’s hard to believe that as a doctor I still struggled to get an accurate diagnosis for my condition for over a year-and-a-half, but the blood test came back negative initially and I kept rationalizing the pain I was experiencing. Eventually, I was visiting my dad, who is also a doctor, and he sent me to a see a colleague of his who took x-rays of my feet, saw the damage, and was able to diagnose me with RA. It was actually a relief to finally have a diagnosis.

Q: What drove you to leave your prestigious career as a medical doctor to become a comedian?

Passion. My heart wasn’t in medicine like I thought it would be. I tried stand-up a few times while in medical school and really loved it—I knew it was my calling.

Q: As a doctor, you helped people. Do you feel that you help people now through entertainment?

Absolutely, I strongly believe that laughter is the best medicine. Any time you can get people laughing and actually change their moods, I think that makes a big difference.

Plus, if I mess up on stage, lives aren’t at risk, so it’s a lot less pressure!

Q: How does rheumatoid arthritis intrude on your life as an entertainer? (e.g., Do you have significant physical limitations? Are there days you don’t feel like being funny?)

Fortunately, my condition doesn’t impact my career as an entertainer. If anything, my disease has given me more focus. It has helped me realize that nothing is guaranteed and it serves as a constant reminder to make the most of every opportunity.

Q: Would you say that your rheumatoid arthritis is now well-controlled? What has helped you the most (e.g., medications, exercise, diet, attitude?)

Yes, my condition is well-controlled and medication is by far the largest component. I receive an infusion therapy called Remicade (infliximab) every two months. As patients, we’re lucky to live in a golden era of treatments available for rheumatoid arthritis. The infusion treatment allows me be active and exercise.

Even before I received my diagnosis and my disease was at its worst, I would still go out and perform stand-up comedy because doing something I loved distracted me from my pain, so attitude definitely played a big part in living with this disease, as well.

Q: What’s your message to others with rheumatoid arthritis? What do you know about living with rheumatoid arthritis that every other person with the disease should know?

My message to patients is to get informed, which is why it’s great to have resources like CreakyJoints.org and Verywell.com. I encourage patients to educate themselves about all of the treatment options available and to learn how other rheumatoid arthritis patients are living with this disease.

I want patients to know that there is hope and that this disease doesn’t have to define who you are. With the right treatment, you can live a normal life with rheumatoid arthritis. You can learn more about my story by checking out my stand-up comedy videos at CreakyJoints.org.

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