Gastroenterologist Dr Pal opened up about creating a new genre of stand-up comedy called MEDCOM, an amalgam of medical comedy, by making people laugh while simultaneously educating them about health.
Dr Pal Manickam during his one his MEDCOM shows. (Illustration by Vani Gupta/IndiaToday)
In February 2020, weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set to announce an unforeseen lockdown in the country, an Indian doctor far in the West began his online journey with a not-so-serious YouTube video about Covid-19.
Dr Palaniappan Manickam, a.k.a Dr Pal, the California-based gastroenterologist, recorded a video for a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) only to be rejected for an insignificant aspect – his humour.
Watch this video first.
“They said, Dr Pal, please be professional. So, I just uploaded the video on YouTube and it went viral overnight,” Dr Pal told IndiaToday.In.
Known to add humour to his informational videos, Dr Pal has gained a huge following for tackling simple subjects like weight loss, intermittent fasting and ways to keep the gut healthy with his superb comic timing.
His debut clip, which amassed 500k views, later translated into a thriving online career, with over two million subscribers on YouTube and over a million followers on Instagram.
THE BIRTH OF MEDCOM
Dr Pal is now the pioneer of MEDCOM or medical comedy, a series of stand-up comedy shows with a touch of medical information. The crux of this concept rests on one pillar – laughter.
“As a gastroenterologist, it is quite difficult to talk about haemorrhoids, anorectal problems, colonoscopy or colon cancer. If I can create an ice-breaking point when I walk into the room, the patient opens up a little bit more,” said Dr Pal.
Speaking about the power of laughter and infusing it into his videos, he added, “There are so many health problems we still don’t have a cure for. Many diseases get better just with reassurance and the trust factor with the doctor. Humour helped me a lot in that aspect.”
It all started with Dr Pal’s own weight loss journey, while he weighed 110 kg during his medical studies in the US. All this changed after a health scare related to his heart ushered him to follow the path of a balanced healthy lifestyle, a lesson most doctors often don’t follow themselves.
“While I was sitting in the hospital bed, I was thinking, what am I doing? And I was thinking how doctors have such a hypocritical attitude, where we tell patients to lose weight and sleep better, exercise, while we (doctors) don’t do anything at all,” said Dr Pal.
Following what he termed as the “wake-up call,” the California-based doctor ended up learning about fasting and other tips and tricks to shed those extra kilos.
“Most doctors usually focus on treatment. We are very proud when we put that stent in the heart after a heart attack. But nobody knows how to tell the patient to lose weight so that the heart attack doesn’t happen again,” added Dr Pal.
Realising that he should put his life’s journey into shows that can also educate people, Dr Pal coined the word, “Medcom”, where people attend a stand-up comedy show.
WHY IS” SARVANA KUMAR” ALL OF US?
Dr Pal created Sarvana Kumar, a fictional character, who is featured in many of the expert’s educational videos. This character reflects an ordinary person who loves to binge-eat snacks, likes to have processed foods and sugar and is all things unhealthy.
Showing Sarvana Kumar as how most people choose their food based on craving, Dr Pal said, “There’s a Saravana Kumar inside everybody. When someone is teaching you about your health in a comical way, then that works.”
He finds ideas for his videos by visiting various places and observing the general eating habits of people.
In a super-hit Instagram reel that received 15 million views, Dr Pal talks about the reverse banana leaf method which he observed while having lunch at a wedding in Chennai. He explained the reduction of calorie intake by increasing the consumption of fibre and reducing carbohydrates from the banana leaf plate.
GUT: THE SECOND BRAIN
Our gut comprises the small intestine and large intestine, as well as the bacteria present there.
Dr Pal believes that the root of most diseases in the body begins with an unhealthy gut and therefore, one should first look into this area of the human physique for a happier life.
The gut bacteria have numerous species present in the intestines. In the absence of gut bacteria, we won’t be able to eat 25% of the food that we do, the expert pointed out.
“It is a symbiotic relationship. All bacteria are not bad. You need to have good gut bacteria so that they will digest the food for you. It will control the immune system. When there’s a problem it means the bad bacteria is predominant. Your gut bacteria dictates whether you are going to be obese, happy or anxious,” he said.
The gut is our second brain, shared Dr Pal, adding, “I always tell my patients that there are two things that you should include in your diet every day. One is some fermented food and the second one is having a high-fibre diet.”
THE MAGIC OF FASTING
According to Dr Pal, fasting has a deep association with our health, which was laid down by our ancestors. “We are eating more than what we need. In this era, Gen Z is more exposed to food than knowledge. And if you ask me, food is available everywhere, and it is very easy to consume more than what we need,” the expert said.
Dr Pal believes in intermittent fasting and promotes it quite often, which helps in gradual weight loss while increasing the good bacteria in the gut and regulating hormones.
“Just cut down on the number of calories. We should not abuse our hormones because, similar to how we go to sleep for rest, we wake up refreshed and with energy, all our hormones need to go to sleep and then wake up as well. If you keep eating, the hormones will not have rest and they won’t work that much. We need to give 12 hours of rest to the hormones. That’s it. Start there, and then you slowly extend based on what you want. This change in your mindset and the change in the amount of calorie intake will create some kind of visible changes in your body, which will make you motivated to do more,” said Dr Pal.
An online journey is seldom a smooth journey. On the one hand, spreading health information can be educational, but on the other, one can face the perils of trolling and criticism.
Talking about how he has faced attacks from people who had problems mixing informative content with humour, Dr Pal said, “My job is extremely difficult because I cannot include everything in a one-minute video. When people started questioning me missing a point, that became a problem. People started attacking that approach a lot.”
The stand-up comedy doctor narrated an incident when a woman wrote a heartening letter to him about managing her PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) better and finally getting pregnant by simply following healthy tips shared by Dr Pal on social media.
“She lost close to 20-30 kg in 1 to 2 years. Her PCOS got better. She ovulated better. She got pregnant after failing 10 IVFs (in vitro fertilisation). She underwent miscarriages before and when the baby was born, she took the picture of the baby with her husband, and she showed the picture of all the 10 aborted IVF babies before. It just completely changed my paradigm. I was like, forget about whoever is saying anything about me. I don’t care,” said Dr Pal.
He added, “Those negative comments are not affecting me much because I’m seeing the outcome from my methods.”
THE WAY AHEAD…
With more than two million subscribers on YouTube and over one million followers on Instagram, Dr Pal plans on pushing the boundaries of weight loss and introducing more fictional characters to his comedic videos to make medical information easier to understand.
“I spend 20 hours a week on my YouTube channel. I create that time because I’m passionate about it. If I used those 20 hours at my regular job, I might have retired by now. This gives me more satisfaction than other work,” the lone medical comedian said with a smile.
Jan 1, 2024