WHO should we take more seriously: surgeons or comedians? That’s not a silly question if you look at current media and social trends. Comedians are much more likely to be consulted for their expert opinions on the NHS by Newsnight or Question Time. But you are far more likely to have a laugh with a surgeon and leave your gig with them feeling happier with life.
A recent article in the Daily Mail seems to demonise surgeons on rather flimsy evidence of ‘elitism’ (that old chestnut). It was sourced from the British Medical Journal, of all places.
Meanwhile, comedians are treated with such reverence that our democracy has an unofficial third chamber, the House of Comedy.
I’ve researched both sectors thoroughly. Through a combination of sports injuries, bad choices and genetic inheritance, I’ve managed to get myself in front of a diversity of surgeons with specialities ranging from neuro through uro to colo.
Neurosurgeons helped me after I cycled into a barrier at full speed in Richmond Park in the dark. Urogenital specialists advised me about my hydrocele after a football did the same to my goolies. I’m currently indebted to surgeons working on my bowels, liver and vascular system.
Weirdly, I have far more laughs with them than I’d get from listening to the BBC.
Professor Tan, a visiting neurosurgeon from Texas, was my favourite. He freed my trapped nerve under local anaesthetic and he was so charming and sweet-natured that I completely forgot to faint.
Lately he’s been usurped in my affections by the colo-rectal surgeons at Mayday Hospital in Croydon. They look about the same age as comics on TV but they are far wiser and wittier.
Talk about tough love: I was admitted with abdominal pains and they literally tore me a new bottom. I’m totally indebted to them. I think I will always remember them, even when bowel cancer is a distant memory. Special mention should go to the vascular surgeon at the same hospital, who is dealing with the aftermath of a chronic wound (that was last year’s injury). And I had a most lovely chat last Friday with a surgeon at the Royal Marsden. He was such a clever, happy man that I actually enjoyed talking to him, even the though the subject was removal of five lesions from my liver and my chances of survival.
I promise you, I’m no Munchhausen, but I actually enjoy going to see surgeons. They are the jolliest, most empathetic bunch of people I’ve ever met. Which is odd, given the pressure they must be under, the volume of work and the vast breadth of subject material they need to keep up with.
It’s their patience and good humour that lifts your spirits. It takes genius to make other people feel clever and they explain difficult concepts really well. I’ve no idea what their politics are, but you do feel inspired to be a more socially aware person by their example.
That, in my experience, is everything that modern comedians are not.
To gain insight into the culture of comedy, I met a top club compere recently. I actually paid for enlightenment on the art of the MC – the comic who introduces all the acts.
It is the hardest job of all, he said. In three successive nights at the same venue, you can stun the audience one night, leave them comatose the next and on the third they might be in stitches.
The MC, he said, will conduct regular post mortems. ‘I triangulate the experiences of all three gigs and see what went wrong and what went right,’ said the comedy practitioner.
To make it easy for me to understand the Hardest Job of All, he then compared it to one of life’s presumably easier gigs: ‘It’s bit like being a surgeon. He might do a good operation one day. And he then another time, he might do a bad operation.’
For obvious reasons, that surgery metaphor had some resonance for me.
With a deadpan expression, he continued to benchmark the impossibly hard discipline of the London Circuit of Comics against the relatively easy hackwork of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Then I felt a shock realisation. It felt as if a cold hand had clutched my bowel tumour. He was serious! He wasn’t joking at all. Comedians really do think they are the elite these days.
Think of all those pompous political lectures you receive from BBC shows like The Mash Report and The Now Show. Most comics aspire to nothing more than being the TV equivalent of Butlin’s Red Coats – appearing on an endless circuit of witless game, panel and reality TV shows. But for some reason they’ve deluded themselves into thinking their opinions on everything from Brexit to the NHS to mortality are of national importance. And they are indulged in this by all our major broadcasters.
The comedy tutor was, to be fair, quite a sweet-natured man and reasonably funny – for a comic. But when he compared himself to a surgeon I felt so disappointed I wanted to rip off my colostomy bag and chuck it through the pub’s stained-glass window.
Still, let’s not be judgmental. I don’t want to make snap diagnoses of Delusions of Grandeur – that’s amateur hour psychology, the sort of thing you see on those Open Mic nights they hold at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Further research is needed. Proof must be gathered.
Meanwhile, I keep being re-admitted to Mayday Hospital with various chemotherapy complications. Still, it’s almost worth having a DVT just to talk to those inspirational, life-affirming scalpel-wielders.
I attempted a joke with one of the young registrars. ‘Colo-rectal surgeons are the hardest doctors of all,’ I said. ‘I came in here belly-aching and you literally tore me a new arsehole.’
The surgeon smiled at that one. He even said he might use it. I’d be honoured if he did.