Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Matt Iseman talks 'Celebrity Apprentice' and 'American Ninja Warrior' (Punchline, August 11-12)

This was posted on Tuesday, August 8, 2017 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Once you become a doctor, your chances of having a stable career and life is pretty good. Sure, it takes a decade or more of preparation but it's a worthy endeavor if done right.

How about if you go into stand-up comedy or TV hosting? Chances of success are far iffier, the road far rockier, and unless you become Chris Rock or Ryan Seacrest, stability is out the window.

In 2002, Matt Iseman ditched being a general practitioner in Denver at age 31 to become a full-time comedian. The climb up the ladder was slow and painful as he latched onto now long-forgotten shows such as "Scream Play" on E! and "Clean House" on the now defunct Style Network.

But then in 2010, he landed a gig co-hosting "American Ninja Warrior," which has become a popular summer reality competition show on NBC. And earlier this year, he won "Celebrity Apprentice," the one hardly anybody watched featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Donald Trump's replacement.

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Iseman has also been doing stand-up for 20 years, even as he became a doctor and is making his first foray to Atlanta in that capacity, coming to the Punchline for two shows Friday, three shows Saturday. (Buy tickets here.)

"I'm looking forward to really enjoying Atlanta," he said in an interview Tuesday. "I'm shooting a sizzle reel for a pilot Thursday. I'm taking a red eye overnight to do press Friday morning, sleep during the day, then do shows Friday and Saturday. I have a bunch of friends and 'Ninja Warrior' folks in town who will come out."

AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR -- "All Stars" -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt Iseman, Akbar Gbajabiamila -- (Photo by: David Becker/NBC)

Iseman's enthusiasm for "Ninja Warrior" is unbridled and not just because it gives him a regular paycheck. "I love the physical challenges and how people who aren't full-time athletes can go in there and do something amazing. And I love how we get to tell inspiring stories. It's that Olympic model."

One recent story touched him in a 'This is Us" sort of way: a family had a child who had a rare genetic disorder and died in the hospital but at the same time, a special needs child was in the same hospital abandoned by his parents. So this family adopted the child. And the father competed with the child watching.

"My mom has always said, 'I'm not embarrassed to watch this show.' " Apparently, that's high praise from his mom.

Although he won "Celebrity Apprentice," it did so poorly in the ratings NBC didn't bother shooting a live finale. They used a pre-taped version. And yes, Trump made fun of the Schwarzenegger version in various Tweets.

Iseman admits he was disappointed by the response from the public, many who went out of their way to declare they were boycotting the show simply because Trump remained an executive producer.

"We go on the show for charity," Iseman said. "We knew this was a great opportunity to see us in a different light or reboot careers. I was well known with the 'Ninja Warrior' crowd but that was it. I was probably the least famous person there. But half the country refused to tune in because of the previous boss. It's unfortunate we're in such a politicized time. I just wish people could have watched the season on its own merits. We did a great show. I loved working with Schwarzeneggar."

He also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and was proud to raise nearly $1 million for the Arthritis Foundation.

THE NEW CELEBRITY APPRENTICE -- "I Don't Have Time For Anyone's Ego Except My Own" Episode 1513 -- Pictured: (l-r) Matt Iseman, Boy George -- (Photo by: Luis Trinh/NBC)

Iseman said he felt his work ethic won Schwarzenegger over although he said it was clear the "Terminator" star and former California governor had no idea who he was when he first showed up. The episode that really stood out to him was when he got to promote the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. He was so into it, it became comical and Schwarzeneggar gave him kudos for his effort. "I was not afraid to look the fool," said the 46 year old.

He said he knows of only two other doctors who have switched careers to become successful comics: his friend Brad Nieder, who does mostly corporate gigs and goes by the nickname "The Healthy Humorist," and actor Ken Jeong, known for his roles in the "Hangover" films and ABC's just cancelled sitcom "Dr. Ken).

"I knew Ken just through the stand-up circuit," Iseman said. "He was actually a cardiologist at Kaiser in the valley. He hired me to do medical comedy many years ago. He told me, 'You can't tell them I do stand up. I don't want them to know!' Now he's a huge star!"

Iseman said his comedy is like that Brian Regan: family friendly and lighthearted. "I'm big and goofy," he said. "I want everyone to have a blast. I don't take pot shots at people. I point of absurdities in sports like soccer and steroids. I talk a little about politics but through a goofier lens. And I'll tell stories about 'Celebrity Apprentice' and 'Ninja Warrior.' And people always want to know why the hell I would leave being a doctor to do stand up."

And even though he's doing three shows back to back on Saturday night, which sounds exhausting, Iseman is not perturbed. "It doesn't matter how tired or sick I am, when I hit that stage, it's like all the oxygen I need. The crowd being there is all you need."


Matt Iseman

8, 10 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m., 8 p.m., 10 p.m. Saturday


The Punchline Comedy Club

3652 Roswell Road, NE, Atlanta

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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