The Funny Podiatrist
The foot bone’s connected to the funny-bone in Dr. Scott Smith’s office.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
<>>It is a surreal couple of minutes. Located in a small office that makes some broom closets feel spacious, Dr. Scott Smith is on a roll. Beneath a shelf of hardback books with titles like Foot and Ankle Disorders, the podiatrist, who with his shaved head and glasses bears a slight resemblance to comedian David Cross, is talking about how he deals with scary panhandlers in San Francisco. He turns away for a second and returns with his face contorted like a battered baseball mitt. Then, he impersonates a homeless person offering to give him some money.
He goes on comparing the rough inhabitants of urban areas with their healthier suburban counterparts. “As soon as you get in the city,” he says, “isn’t it crazy how everyone is limping?”
Above the soft rock playing in the Smith Foot & Ankle Center in Ryan Ranch, there is the sound of someone laughing hysterically down the hallway. It is Jean Evans, a representative for Dermik, a company that makes a medication that cures toenail fungus. Needing Dr. Smith’s signature, Evans walks to the door of the podiatrist’s office to listen to his riffing.
Now, he goes on to the subject of employees in Whole Foods’ holistic medicine aisle. “You know the ones named Kunundra, that wear hemp aprons and have acne somehow even though they only eat fruits and vegetables,” he says. At this point, Evans cracks up. “That’s so true,” she says after catching her breath.
Then after a bit about sensitive males moaning while they are hugging, he gets serious for a few seconds while he signs Evans’ papers and tells her how great he thinks Dermik is for his patients. Dr. Smith is equally at home pursuing his two passions—comedy and foot care.
The 33 year old says that as a kid he wanted to become both a doctor and a comedian when he grew up. “I was interested in being a doctor, but I was also a class clown,” he says. “I couldn’t avoid the funny.”
Growing up with a father who was a podiatrist, the young Smith was intrigued by his dad’s foot models lying around the house at an early age. So after attending Pepperdine University, Smith followed in his father’s footsteps by attending podiatry school in San Francisco and completing his residency in Seattle.
Before leaving for Seattle a few years ago, Smith says, he finally got the guts to pursue his dream of doing standup. He says he got up onstage and did his bit at an open mic night at the Improv in West Hollywood. He jokes that most of his audience were “patients from the ICU (Intensive Care Unit.)”
After completing 12 years of post-high school education when his residency was up, Smith did the unthinkable—he entered another school. Smith registered for classes with the San Francisco Comedy College at the same time that he started his career as a podiatrist working in the same set of offices with his father. Since then, he has found that comedy can be an asset at his day job, causing his patients to temporarily abandon thoughts about their suffering. “I’ve never had someone laughing hysterically say I need to get back to my pain,” he says.
Smith says that doing standup comedy is an inexpensive pursuit when compared to other doctor’s hobbies, but it is also more challenging. “It would be a lot easier if I liked golf and was interested in wine,” he says.
These days, Smith says, he does the doctor thing from Monday through Thursday and travels to the Bay Area to do standup performances most Thursday through Saturday nights at venues like San Francisco’s Punch Line, Sunnyvale’s Rooster T. Feathers and San Jose’s Improv. On some Thursdays, Smith is forced to go directly from a full day of foot surgery to out-of-town standup gigs wearing his scrubs.
As for his act, Smith says he pokes fun at everything from the street credibility of living in Carmel to suicidal patients who choose to overdose on ginkgo biloba instead of more tried and true substances like cyanide and rat poison. Also, the doctor can do some impressive human-beatbox versions of songs like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Enigma’s “Sadness.”
Kurtis Matthews, owner of the San Francisco Comedy College, has good things to say about his student’s work. “He’s a high-energy act,” Matthews says. “He does great voices and great sound effects. He would fall somewhere between Michael Winslow [the sound effects guy in the Police Academy movies] and Steve Martin.”
Smith observes that unlike other budding comedians, he has financial stability due to his other job.
“I can truly do it, because I love it,” he says. “I’m fearless.”