Comedian Matt Iseman Doesn  t Let RA Stifle His Laughter

Matt Iseman, a comedian, television actor, and former physician, was just 31 years old when he developed rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects 1.3 million individuals in the United States. The diagnosis turned his world upside down at first, but he never lost his positive outlook—or his passion for making people laugh.

Now 42, Iseman is opening up about his personal experience with RA through his stand-up comedy routine available at, an advocacy organization that works to raise awareness and help RA patients with everything from member support to information about the newest drug treatments. (Thankfully, these days, RA often can be put into remission with medication and therapy.) Iseman's routine, "Prescription for Laughter" isn't just funny. It's uniquely insightful.

"CreakyJoints is the place to go for all you need to know about rheumatoid arthritis," Iseman says. "The site gives you all the practical information, and explains how it will impact your life. It's also a terrific resource if you have a friend or spouse with rheumatoid arthritis and you would like more information."

RA Doesn't Have to Define Your Life

In rheumatoid arthritis, an individual's body begins attacking the lining of the joints. It causes pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints, as well as fatigue. For Iseman, the road from painful symptoms, to diagnosis to getting the problem under control was long and bumpy. It all started after he'd made the decision to change careers, leaving medicine to pursue his passion for acting and comedy.

"I was in the best health of my life," recalls Iseman, who was living in Venice Beach, California. He was performing in shows and getting his career rolling when he began having some pain in his right index finger. Before long, the pain had moved to his foot. As he developed stiffness in his neck, he began going to an endless round of doctors for tests. He was sleeping 12 hours a day and gained 40 pounds during the year and a half it took to receive a diagnosis—too fatigued to do much of anything. "I became an old man overnight," Iseman recalls. "It was a scary glimpse into what rheumatoid arthritis could have been for me if I hadn't gotten the right treatment."

Today he receives an intravenous infusion of medication every two months, and it has turned the problem around. "I have no more pain and stiffness and I am back to doing 80 to 95 percent of what I was doing before," Iseman says. "My work schedule is as busy as it has ever been. I can travel and work anywhere."

Iseman currently hosts "American Ninja Warrior" for NBC and he just shot an episode of "Hot in Cleveland," during which, he says, "I got to play Valerie Bertinelli's friend with benefits." And the funnyman, who now lives in Hollywood, has this advice for others who have symptoms that could signify rheumatoid arthritis: see a doctor to find out. "The sooner you find out, the sooner you can start getting treated and the sooner you will start feeling better," Iseman says.

His message to others with RA? "Be informed," Iseman says. "Be your own advocate. And don't give up hope. It's intimidating to find out you have this disease, but just because RA is part of your life, it doesn't mean you can't use humor to cope."

Nathan Wei, MD, reviewed this article.