Dr Palaniappan Manickam, known as Dr Pal, effectively conveys important medical information using humour or ‘medcom’ (medical comedy). What began as a means to ease patients’ discomfort has now led him to amass over two million followers on various social media platforms and embark on a global stand-up tour.
“Hey, after this, I’m going to know you inside out,” Dr Palaniappan Manickam tells his patient before doing an endoscopy, making the patient laugh. The gastroenterologist, based out of Sacramento in California, USA, uses humour to make patients feel comfortable.
Until 2020, only his patients appreciated his humour. Today, however, thanks to social media, the entire world is laughing with him. In March 2020, his video on COVID-19 went viral, giving rise to a genre he calls ‘Medcom’ (medical comedy).
The positive response to his initial video led the doctor to create many videos, which focus on important medical topics, infused with humour to make them more palatable. Today, he has around two million subscribers across YouTube and Instagram.
“People come to a gastroenterologist with diseases like haemorrhoids and piles, which they find embarrassing to describe. When patients have to discuss stool habits, related changes, acidity etc, they don’t open up right away. So I started breaking the ice using a joke. They loved it, so I stuck to it,” Dr Pal, as he is fondly called, tells The Better India.
The appreciation for the doctor’s humour boosted his morale and opened up doors for him at a standup comedy club in Bay Area, California, called ‘Building 18’. This kicked off the 39-year-old’s stint as a comedian.
“I joined Building 18 in May 2020 and learnt tips and tricks on how to write a script, how to deliver a punch, what is stand-up comedy and much more. I found this to be much more difficult than medicine,” laughs the doctor.
Talking about his first standup show at the club, Dr Pal describes the experience as “incomparable”. He says he spent hours preparing for his 10-minute set, where he spoke about many serious medical issues in a comical way.
Wanting to grab this chance that life had given him, the doctor dove head first into comedy, creating reels and videos, and doing shows. Today, he does his ‘medcom’ stand-up comedy shows in the US, India, Malaysia and Singapore.
A punchline for a health tip
While Dr Pal started his YouTube journey with a video about COVID, what really catapulted him to fame was his video on intermittent fasting, where he shared his own weight loss journey.
It all started when the doctor had a health scare which made him sit up and take notice. “I was 100 kg then and had palpitations while working. I realised how hypocritical I was; not practising what I was preaching. I had been studying medicine for almost 15 years but had forgotten to take care of my health in the process. I tried every diet but nothing worked,” he adds.
At the same time, he started a research programme of intermittent fasting with a few of his patients who had fatty liver. As the programme progressed, the doctor also started practising the same in his personal life. After losing almost 25 kg, he wanted to share the lessons he learned with people.
“As a doctor, I had such a tough time losing weight. I wondered how tough it is for non-medical people. That’s why I started making reels on Instagram to help people learn healthy habits,” he says.
Dr Pal delivers these important messages — about gut health, fatty liver, heart health, foods to consume, and tips for a healthy lifestyle — with a comic element. To help deliver the message better, he created some imaginary characters like ‘Saravana Kumar’ who doesn’t like following a diet.
‘Eat between sunrise and sunset’
The Madurai-born doctor has advanced training in nutrition, which helps him preach better choices. Whereas, his humour gene, he says he inherited that from his father!
Dr Pal shares that his goal is to help people get healthier and decrease his business by 30 percent by 2030. “I can guarantee that anybody who follows my channel religiously and follows what I’m promoting will definitely get healthier,” he says.
“I want people to go back to the lifestyle our forefathers were following,” he says. For instance, he suggests waking up early to watch the sunrise and eating the last meal before sunset.
Elaborating on how our ancestors lived, he says, “They never sat in a single place. They would go out hunting for food as soon as the sun rose, and ate wild berries, tubers and fibrous fruits. After walking around the entire day, they would cook whatever they collected before sunset and slept peacefully due to the production of melatonin, which helps sleep,” he says.
One must think how much of this is being followed by our generation today. The doctor jokes that his friend Saravana Kumar wakes up before sunrise only to watch his favourite hero’s first-day-first-show movie in the theatre.
“We are sleeping two hours before sunrise these days! All the phones before bed neutralise the effects of melatonin and don’t let you sleep. We are also doing desk jobs without any movement. Try working and eating only between sunrise and sunset. This will help the circadian rhythm of the body. Have a winding routine post sunset and give rest to your body,” he advises.
Dr Pal further urges everyone to lead a balanced life and not compromise on health. “Don’t make this too complicated. You don’t have to eat quinoa or expensive organic food. Just follow your ancestors and keep it simple,” he adds.
R Suguna, who follows Dr Pal on YouTube, says that she has become healthier after following his videos. “I have PCOS and was having a hard time losing weight. I also wanted to get my periods regularly. I started following intermittent fasting and moving throughout the day after watching Dr Pal’s videos. The change has been immense. Over the past 14 months, I’ve been able to regularise my periods and have much better stamina and energy,” says Suguna.
Dr Pal shares that his idea is to give tips and tricks in an interactive, interesting way, without making it feel like a lecture.
“I love the satisfaction that comes from making people laugh. So many come up to me and share the changes in their lives after following my tips. They have tears in their eyes as they share their stories. It just leaves me awestruck. I just want people to get healthier and receive fewer patients at the hospital,” he says.
In addition to his work in weight loss, a particular incident deeply touched the gastroenterologist. In one of his initial videos, he addressed the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, prompting an elderly woman from Madurai to receive the vaccine. “I received a letter from a woman in Thootukudi. She had lost her father to COVID as the vaccine was not available then. She said that her mother took the vaccine after seeing my video. She said, ‘At least, I have my mother today, thanks to you’,” says Dr Pal.
“If I can change somebody’s life sitting in Sacramento, talking to a camera, why shouldn’t I do it? It is truly satisfying as well as fun for me,” he adds.
Dr Pal contributes his social media earnings to the Aishwaryam Trust. You can contribute here.
(Edited by Pranita Bhat; All pictures courtesy Dr Palaniappan Manickam)