May 2016




Ophthalmologist during the week, comedian on the weekend

by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Staff Writer


I try to talk about what its like to be a doctor, joking about things that are honest and things that patients dont expect to hear from doctors. Bernie Spier, MD


Dr. Spier draws from his experience as a physician to craft jokes that poke fun at his own career as he pursues a stand-up comedy hobby.

Dr. Spier with a patient and staff.

Source (all): Bernie Spier, MD

New Jersey-based doctor pokes fun at patients and his own profession in comedic hobby

Bernie Spier, MD, Northern New Jersey Eye Institute, South Orange, New Jersey, stands on a stage. Hes not in a suit and tie or even a white coat. Hes wearing a casual sweater and jeans. This is not a clinical presentation that fellow ophthalmologists or patients might expect from the doctor. Patients ask me, Doc, how are you going to do my LASIK? I could tell them Im going to carve your eyeball out of your head, Im going to slap it down on a cutting board, Im going to chop it into a million little pieces, crush it into a pulp, and stuff it back into your skull. As long as I tell them its done by a laser, theyre like, Sign me up, Dr. Spier said, serving up the punch line in his New Jersey accent. The crowd seated in front of Dr. Spier at the club Stand Up New York in Manhattan erupts into laughter. Dr. Spier is a tall, single, devastatingly handsome ophthalmologist, as he put it in his routine the day before Valentines Day, pausing a moment for effect. At least thats what my 90-year-old blind patients tell me before I take out their cataracts. Dr. Spier said his interest in comedy has always been there. Even in grammar school and high school, I wasnt the class clown, but I was making the kids who were around me laugh, he said. Although he had incorporated humor into some of his medical presentations before, a couple of years ago he took his interest to the next level and attended a stand-up comedy class. At the end of the class, students performed at an actual Manhattan comedy club. It was terrifying. The first 2 times, I almost didnt make it. I was literally on the verge of throwing up, I was so nervous, Dr. Spier said. But thinking about what he does everyday in the operating roomperforming advanced surgical procedures that could permanently impact a persons eyesight for the better or for the worseis what got him in the door. Thats what got me to the club. That exact thought, which is I could blind people every day. The worst that can happen here is I embarrass myself. No one is going to go blind, he said. Now, Dr. Spier said he steps up on stage at least once a month. He said his jokes are more intellectual, and he definitely pulls from his professional experience. I try to talk about what its like to be a doctor, joking about things that are honest and things that patients dont expect to hear from doctors, he said. You should know that when you come into my office and you tell me that your eyes itch and burn, I dont give a s***, he quipped in his skit. There are patients down the hall who are going blind. Jokes like this, Dr. Spier said, might be a bit transgressive, but they draw laughs, especially from the health care crowd. Any eye people, they just laugh their a** off because they get it. These are all things that have crossed their minds, but they would never say them, he said. He doesnt just poke fun at patients though, and includes 1 of the bad things about being an ophthalmologist in his routine. I have to have dinner with a lot of other snobby ophthalmologists. Believe me, listening to these guys try to select a bottle of wine is like listening to a bunch of kids argue about whether Spiderman or Superman would win a fight to the deathnobody cares, he said. These guys are going to launch into their pretentious wine talk. You know what Im talking about. They hold the glass by the stem, swirl it around, stick their nose in there and pronounce that this wine has a big nose, great legs, and a hint of rancid truffles. But Ive learned how to decode the wine talk. If you want to sound like you know what youre talking about with wine, just use adjectives that should never be associated with food or any beverage, such as, This wine is friendly or This wine is voluptuous and available or This wine has a big nose, great legs, and a nice a**. This joke, he admitted with a laugh, goes over well with a general audience but some of his colleagues are not so crazy about it. As for where Dr. Spier hopes to move his comedic career, he said hed like to reach a point where he doesnt have to bring guests to the club in order to perform, something he and other aspiring comedians in the city have to do in order to get stage time. He also said hes interested in doing routines for corporate meetings and the like, but in the end all I know is that Im having fun with it now. With a lot of great talent in comedy struggling to make a living out of it, he said, Im just glad I can do it as a hobby. Hell keep his day job as an ophthalmologist, which his routine provides some clarification on for those who might need it. Just to clarify, there are 3 types of eye doctors. There are opticians, these are the guys who try to sell you the Gucci frames that you dont want. Optometrists, theyre the ones who try to sell you the colored contacts so you look like the devil. And ophthalmologists, like me, our claim to fame is that we have the most misspelled and mispronounced medical specialty, but the really great thing is that our patients dont have to take off their clothes to be examined and believe me, for the most part, thats a good thing.

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