5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started: Matt Iseman, Host of “American Ninja Warrior” & Winner of NBC’s “The New Celebrity Apprentice”

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“I’ve had to be my own best champion in my career and the same with my health.”

I had the pleasure to interview Matt Iseman, host of American Ninja Warrior. Matt lives with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – a chronic autoimmune disease affecting 1.4 million Americans. Matt is helping Joint Decisions kick off a national contest encouraging other patients to post photos of themselves with a cardboard cutout of Matt for a chance to win a meet and greet with him later this year. Matt will be streaming live from his social media channels and the Joint Decisions Facebook page on October 4 to kick off the campaign, Matt Across America. Cardboard cutouts of Matt Iseman will then visit participating physician offices across the country from October 4 – mid-December. To join the campaign, patients take a photo with “Matt” at physician infusion (IV) centers, and post the photos to social media using a campaign hashtag, #MattMeAndIV. Patients can also enter by downloading and printing an image of one of the cardboard “Matts” from the Joint Decisions Facebook page. At the end of the campaign, one random photo will be selected as the winner who will receive a meet and greet with the “real” Matt.

Kimberly: What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in Denver, Colorado and I went to Princeton University where I played baseball and then ended up going to medical school. I’m a doctor. I went to Columbia University and got my MD. I was practicing medicine when I ended up leaving medicine to pursue standup comedy. And that’s something a lot of people always wonder about. Basically, I wasn’t as passionate about medicine, but I knew that I wanted to interact with people and stand-up comedy was something that kind of came out of nowhere. I ended up on television and it’s been a ride I’d never imagine happening. I’ve been enjoying every step of it.

The first time I did stand-up was in New York during medical school. It was actually one of my high school friends who dragged me to an open mic and I just thought, that looks like so much fun. My friend says, “You should try this! This is what you should be doing just to blow off steam from medical school.” I did stand-up and I enjoyed it but never thought it would be something that I would do. Then I decided to take a break from medicine and do something to kind of clear my mind and I thought stand-up comedy would be kind of like a reset year. I moved out to LA just thinking that I would spend a year, a year-and-a-half out here and then go back to medicine and be a responsible adult and instead, I just feel in love with it. I fell in love with being on the stage and being in front of people and communicating to people. I think it’s kind of what drew me to medicine in the first place was this desire to interact with people, share stories and make them happy and I found that through comedy and hopefully through television. That’s what’s great about “American Ninja Warrior”, I feel like it’s basically positive TV.

Kimberly: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?

One time I auditioned to be the spokesperson for a national restaurant chain. I had to wear an enormous {mascot} head around me. So in the audition, I go in and put the head on and because it’s a massive head, they put a set of goggles on that have a camera in the nose. So, part of the audition was to see if you could handle the disorientation of having your eyesight be projected a foot in front of you. So I had to go and act out a scene, and I end up break dancing and I killed the audition. The problem was the person before me hadn’t handled it as well and had gotten sick and had lost their lunch into the hat! And as I was dancing, I realized I’m smelling Lysol and I’m smelling someone else’s lunch…they told me afterwards. And then they told me that I was too tall to be the character…and I’m like, “Why would you let me audition and put this hat on and have to suffer through it?!” But that’s the price of Hollywood…

Kimberly: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of the cool things about going on “Celebrity Apprentice” was for me, the roles were reversed. To go from being the host where on “American Ninja Warrior” I’m not the one risking anything, to be on “Celebrity Apprentice” and feel that vulnerability and then to have the opportunity instead of telling other peoples’ stories to tell my story to talk about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) which is something that I was diagnosed with in 2002, and it was great to be on “Celebrity Apprentice” and have a chance to compete and compete for a charity like the Arthritis Foundation, which was cool because it was so personal and to me, it felt like I understand now what the competitors on “American Ninja Warrior” feel when they’re on the starting line and put themselves out there and put their stories out there and that’s what I felt like I got to do on “Celebrity Apprentice” in sharing my story.

RA is an autoimmune disease, an inflammatory form of arthritis. 1.5 million Americans are affected with it. For me, the initial onset was physically devastating. Over a year-and-a-half, it completely transformed by body. I was 30-years-old when the symptoms first started and over a year-and-a-half I went from being in the best shape of my life to gaining 55 pounds to having pain in my hands and feet to sleeping 10 to 12 hours a day and losing my sense of self. When I I was diagnosed with RA, which is a chronic disease, there’s no cure, I was relieved. I was relieved because I knew what I was facing and then to be able to start a treatment. For me, I’m so lucky that I’ve responded to the treatment and my rheumatoid arthritis has been well controlled. And I think that’s what has made me a more passionate advocate is to know that there are people out there who don’t respond to treatment or haven’t explored all of their treatment options and to feel like there are people who are being limited by this disease breaks my heart. I know what it’s like to have this disease not be controlled and I want people to know that they’re not alone, there are options and information out there and to tell people that nobody cares about your health as much as you do- to be your own best advocate.

I’ve worked with Arthritis Foundation, I’m partnering with a group, Joint Decisions, and that’s one of the missions we have is to tell people that there’s information and options out there and we want to empower people to become their own best advocates and to explore all of their options when they are thinking of treatment and to make sure that you’re living your fullest life with RA because so many people, when you have a chronic disease, focus on what you can’t do. And I encourage people to focus on what you can do. Being on “Celebrity Apprentice” and winning it was a great symbol for me to feel like I have this chronic disease but it’s not slowing me down.

Kimberly: What are the most exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m kicking off a campaign called Matt Across America. This campaign is for people who are living with RA, who are going through infusion or curious about IV therapy. It’s a way to let people know you’re not alone and to share their experiences and win a chance to meet me which I mean, is there a better prize?! It’s so great to take something like a chronic disease and to try to turn it into something positive and that’s what I felt like I did on “Celebrity Apprentice” and that’s what I’m trying to do with Joint Decisions and with this contest.

To submit for the {Matt Across America photo} contest:

– Step 1: Take a selfie with “Me”(one of the cardboard cutouts)

– Step 2: Post the selfie on Instagram or Facebook

– Step 3: Tag @JointDecisionsRA and use #MattMeAndIV and #Contest

People can go to https://www.facebook.com/JointDecisionsRA/ for more information. You can download and print a “Matt” there as well, so you can enter if the cardboard “Matts” aren’t traveling to your infusion center on the cross-country journey.

Also, “America Ninja Warrior” rolls on! We’re doing the spin-off show, “Team Ninja Warrior”, where we are going to be shooting our third season and season ten of the main show is going to be coming back and I’m also on “Hallmark Home and Family”. I feel like my career has never been better, I’ve never been busier and it’s because I’m so fortunate to be able to have my rheumatoid arthritis controlled by the treatment that I’m on.

Kimberly: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

You Need to be Your Own Best Champion:

In LA, I have an agent, a manager, for Rheumatoid Arthritis, I have a doctor and I have my family, but I always tell people that you need to be your own best champion and I think that’s one of the key messages…coming out to Hollywood, there’s this idea you get an agent and you’re fine. And you realize that everyone is worried about themselves. And I’ve always felt like I’ve had to be my own best champion in my career and the same with my health.

Keep Fighting:

I love being positive, I love sharing positive messages, but there are down days. You’re going to have days, but just remember that even when it feels impossible, if you just keep going, you will get to the finish line.

Find Friends:

When I started in stand-up comedy, I ended up having two friends who were my best friends now for 18 years since I’ve been in LA and to have them and to have that feeling of family in my career was really key. For me, it was important to find people that have that shared experience {people living with rheumatoid arthritis}, so finding that sense of family has always been important.

Be Nice:

I’ve always felt my Mom watching everything I do. On “Celebrity Apprentice”, there was some backstabbing and I think there were some people who weren’t and I always kind of imagined my Mom watching the episodes and going “is she going to call me up and go Matt, what were you thinking?!”, so try to be a good person.

Life is Short, Do What Makes You Happy:

The best message I ever got was from my Dad who is a doctor. I told my Dad that I was leaving medicine to do stand-up comedy and people always say, “Did he pass out? Did he throw a drink in your face? Did he go what are you thinking?” and the first words out of his mouth were the advice that I think is the best advice that I’ve ever gotten and that’s, “Life is short, do what makes you happy.” And I wake up every day when I go to “{American} Ninja Warrior” or go to “Hallmark {Home and Family}” or when I’m advocating for RA, I feel like this is what makes me happy. So, I just encourage people to find something they are passionate about and go for it.

Kimberly: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

It would have been Arnold Schwarzenegger, but since I’ve done that now…Honestly, it’s funny, I think as an athlete, one of the people who has always inspired me was John Elway, who’s a Denver Bronco. And one of the things I’ve loved about it is I look at him and it’s not from the sports perspective. What I’ve enjoyed more is watching him transition from the post-athletic career from a player into a general manager of the Broncos to winning a Super Bowl. And to me, I felt like kind of watching that career shift was me leaving medicine and moving into entertainment. They {people} kind of questioned why this guy {John Elway} didn’t just ride off into the sunset or something and you saw his competitive fire and I thought that he kind of refocused I think the thing that made him great as a player into a general manager. I’m fascinated about that. I’m fascinated about his drive and how he’s really transformed that and to keep him as competitive and moving forward as he is. And to me, that’s kind of what I felt with medicine, kind of refocusing it. I look at through entrainment, through comedy, I still feel like I’m helping people. I would love to sit down with Elway, pick his brain, talk about drive, talk about what motivates him and what makes him tick. I think on “America Ninja Warrior”, I’ve become fascinated with the different ways that people find their motivation in life. And to me, Elway is someone who’s been a champion for such a long period of time, and I just love…I love the positive energy in someone who’s continued to be successful over time, which is something I’m hoping to do.

Article originally posted on Huffington Post

Matt Iseman
Matt Iseman
I'm the host of American Ninja Warrior and I'm squaring off against 15 other celebrities, all representing their favorite charities while vying for the title of “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
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