I have taken it upon myself to entertain the medical world. Whenever I have a dentist or doctor appointment, I do my best to make jokes. When asked how much I weight, I give my weight in kilograms. When asked how tall I am, I give my height in centimeters1. When a nurse draws blood, I’ll gasp. “Are you alright?” she’ll ask. “Feeling faint?” To which I’ll reply, “No, not all. Just surprised. I expected the blood to be green.”
Sometimes the jokes go over well. Sometimes the fall flat. I like to think there are more of the former than the latter. I also like to think that by making the doctors and nurses smile, I’m making their day a little easier.
My annual physical this morning takes the cake. Never again, I suppose, will I achieve the kind of laugh that I got for a joke I’ve used repeated at the dentist office. And here I was at my doctor’s office.
At the dentist, the person cleaning my teeth will routinely asked me if I floss.
“Yes,” I say.
The hygienist eyes me suspiciously and then says, “How often.”
To which I reply, in complete deadpan, “Twice a year.”
More often than not, there is not laugh. Instead, I get a lecture on the importance of flossing every day. I know the importance of flossing every day. I also know that there are people who are flossers and people who are not, and I fall into the latter category. That my visits to the dentist generally don’t result in the discovery of cavities only bolsters my position. Occasionally I’ll get a smile at the joke—followed, of course, by a lecture.
At the doctor, I didn’t expect to be asked about my teeth. But it was a comprehensive physical. They asked me about when I last got my vision tested, did I have a flu shot, do I see the dentist regularly. I answered yes to all of these.
The nurse, who was standing by a computer terminal in the small exam room, then said, “Do you floss?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Twice a year,” I said.
She gave me an odd look. Half a beat passed. And then she fell to the floor laughing. The reaction took me completely by surprise. She couldn’t stop laughing. She regained her standing position, and returned to the terminal, only to collapse into laughter once again. I was delighted. She was still smiling when she left the room.
Walking home from the appointment (yes, I walked to the doctor’s office), I tried to think why the joke worked so well with the nurse, and only sometimes gets a smile at the dentist’s office. I came up with two thoughts:
1. The delivery was perfect. I hadn’t expected the question, but I had the answer loaded and ready, and there no hesitation between the question and my clear and instant response.
2. It was a completely unexpected answer, after a rash of standard answers. Vision checked? March. Flu shot? October. Regular dental exams? Yes. Floss? Yes? How often? Twice a year. POW!
The incident made me realize just how hard a standup comic’s job really is. The bit that I did that got such a good laugh took about a minute. I’ve been using the line for years, but I finally found the right delivery. If I were writing a standup routine, I’d now have exactly one minute of good material.
At that rate, it would take me years to come up with enough material to do a twenty minute set.
- Readers outside the United States might not find this amusing. What you must remember is that the United States still uses the English system of measurement. Which probably explains a lot about our relative conservatism. ↩