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Talking with comedian and 'American Ninja' host Matt Iseman

Comedian and "American Ninja Warrior" host Matt Iseman

Comedian and "American Ninja Warrior" host Matt Iseman with Kidsday reporters Daniella Jimenez, left, Gabriella Lombardo, Anthony Diaz and Joseph Rivera in Manhattan. Credit: Newsday/Pat Mullooly

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing comedian Matt Iseman, the host of “American Ninja Warrior,” and “American Ninja Warrior Junior.” Before his fame on the show, he led an extremely interesting life. Matt wasn't always and actor and comedian. He started off going to medical school at Princeton and became a doctor. While working at a hospital, he decided to give up medicine and take up stand-up comedy. This big risk paid off! He started touring all over the world and was on a few TV shows before becoming the host of “American Ninja Warrior.” 

When you went to college to become a doctor, what did your family and your parents say when you decided to give up medicine and do stand-up?

I went to college, Princeton, and then I came here to New York, and I went to medical school at Columbia. I become a doctor and I returned home to Colorado to do training. The hospital I was with, my dad was a professor there. He was so proud of me, but then I realized that medicine wasn’t what I was meant to do. It’s really hard when you spend a lot of time preparing for something and then you get into it and you realize it’s not what you want to be. I was lucky that I told my parents my heart wasn’t in this and I was thinking of trying something else. I moved out to LA to become a comedian. My parents said: Life is short. Do what makes you happy. And they supported me. 

Which comedians influenced you throughout your life?

I remember my dad had Steve Martin on an album. We were listening to Steve Martin, and he was one who I always made me laugh. That’s when I started to think people actually do that for a living. And then Eddie Murphy was another comedian who I thought was very funny. He was on “Saturday Night Live.” His movies are very funny. His comedy was a little blue. Sometimes he would use bad words, but he was very funny. And then when I moved out to do comedy in LA, there was a comedian who was out and I was listening to. He was so good, and I thought he was what I inspire to be. His name Brian Regan.

On “Celebrity Apprentice,” you raised money for the Arthritis Foundation. Why did you choose that charity? 

That’s the foundation that helped me. I was diagnosed in 2002. I've had this disease for a long time, and if you’ve ever been sick, when you’re sick it can be really hard, and this was something that really effected my body. It was nice to have a charity — they were not just looking to research and try to help find a cure for this disease, they were also supporting you. Sometimes when you get sick, you need help from people to feel better, not just physically but emotionally. So this group had really made a difference for me. 

When you auditioned to become the host for "American Ninja Warrior" did you ever think you would be this big a hit?

I didn’t have to audition. It’s the only job I had in Hollywood where they offered it to me. I think because at the time it was such a small show … I was working on a sister show on a channel where they own both channels. I think they thought this Ninja show is probably going to last one season. So they gave it to me thinking, just let this guy do it. 

How did they come up with the difficult parts of the obstacle course?

There was actually a show in Japan that our show was based on. Initially, we were taking their obstacle ideas. But then we realized our athletes were training so much more, they were coming in better prepared. Because we had men and women we had people who were 4’9” up to 6’7” coming on these obstacles. We needed obstacles that challenge the bigger range of people. We had a team that 365 days a year is trying to come up with obstacles to challenge people. 

What is the best part of hosting the show?

Getting to meet the athletes and hearing their stories. What’s fun is I’ve known some of these people for almost a decade. And to get to see them grow up, to get to see a lot of them start dating, someone fall in love, getting married, have kids and some of these athletes now we’ve seen their kids start to begin on "America’s Ninja Warrior Junior." To really see the lives of these people change through "Ninja Warrior" amazes me. People who before the show didn’t really have a direction in life, now they’ve opened up gyms, they really found out who they are. I think that’s my favorite part.

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