September 2013




Doctor practices humor in improv comedy group

by Erin L. Boyle EyeWorld Senior Staff Writer

Bryan Crum, MD


Dr. Crum (right) and a fellow improv troupe member play out an improv comedy scene.

Source: Bryan Crum, MD

By day, Bryan Crum, MD, is a general ophthalmologist, treating many cataract and lid cases. By night and by weekend, he is an amateur comedian, performing improvisational skits with an improv comedy troupe. The two practicesmedicine, comedyare in harmony in Dr. Crum's life, because the one helps the other, he said.

"All of medicine tends to be pretty serious, and my patients enjoy the fact that occasionally, I will lighten the atmosphere by having a joke or a comeback to something that they're talking about," said Dr. Crum, Shasta Eye Medical Group, Redding, Calif. "It's certainly something I have to be careful with in that if they are feeling serious or anxious, I don't make light of things, but usually I can read when a patient is going to be OK with that sort of interaction." "I think a lot of my patients appreciate it, especially ones who have known me for a while and know that I can be a very serious doctor when it's time to take care of their eyes, but then I can also help them have fun," he said.

How he started

Dr. Crum said he alternated between being seen as a comedian and an athlete in school, but decided to pursue medicine. Five years ago, he became interested in improv comedy through the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? "Several people told me, 'You would be right for that kind of thing.' I found out that there was a group in my town that did improv comedy, and I went and auditioned for them and was cast in the group," he said.

He workshops with the group, known as the Redding Improv Players, once a week; once a month, the group hosts a performance. At those performances, a host chooses five members from their group of about 12 to perform "games" with particular quirks or types of scenarios in front of an audience. No one knows who will perform from month to month, which heightens the excitement when selected, Dr. Crum said.

"There's a delicious anticipation and anxiety that comes with standing on the stage and not knowing if you're going to completely bomb or get a huge reaction. Not knowing that really keeps the excitement of the performance up," he said.

He said to participate in improv comedy, a person has to be willing to commit to the idea of taking part in an improvisational, spontaneous experience, where anything might happen.

"As you do it more and more often, you find that you look stupid less and less often, but I still get plenty of chances to say, 'Well, that was dumb.' When someone endows you with a quirk, and you have to start singing a song while someone else is playing, trying to carry a tune and make up words and be a character all at the same time, [that's] a real challenge," he said.

Patient reaction

His patients appreciate his comedy hobby, he said, and have even attended his performances. Some have expressed surprise at how silly he is onstage versus how he is when in the office with them, discussing their eye health.

"Others have said, 'If I didn't know you ahead of time, I wouldn't know you could be serious in the office like you are,' so blurring that line between my office persona and my stage persona can sometimes be a challenge," he said.

Through improv comedy, he has learned the art of the concept of "yes, and" which is how the games proceed, he said, by allowing for more improvisation to flow from the conversation instead of stopping it through a negating statement.

This concept has extended into his ophthalmic practice and his experiences with his patients, he said.

"Those sorts of things can help you get a better history from patients, and it makes them feel more comfortable without knowing that's what you are doing," Dr. Crum said.

The nature of improvising with others on stage has assisted him in his daily ophthalmic work, too.

"Just as the nature of improv is to make things up as you go along, that's how it is here in the office. If something seems appropriate then I'm glad to throw it in. But it's just a matter of taking it as it comes," he said. Dr. Crum has been an ophthalmologist for 20 years and said that he encourages others to develop outside interests to help enhance not only their personal lives, but also their practice work. He has lectured on the topic at an annual ophthalmic meeting, showing attendees how improvisational comedy works.

"With all of the potential changes in healthcare and insurance and regulations, and the conversion to electronic records, it's wonderful to have a diversion both for your brain and for your stress level, somewhere else to go that lets you recharge and something that you look forward to; for me, improv comedy is certainly that outlet," he said. "I would encourage everyone to find something that suits him or her and then to pursue that with a diligence that lets you look forward to going back to work because you're recharged," he said.

Editors' note: Dr. Crum has no financial interests related to this article.

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Doctor practices humor in improv comedy group Doctor practices humor in improv comedy group
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