Get to know “American Ninja Warrior” host Matt Iseman of Denver
If it seems like “American Ninja Warrior” was just here, that’s because the popular NBC show has never really left, with a plethora of “Ninja Warrior”-inspired gyms, contests and high-profile competitors calling Colorado home.
The same goes for “American Ninja Warrior’s” Matt Iseman, a 46-year-old Denver native who visits frequently for work and family.
As the longest-serving host of the eight-year-old show, Iseman has benefited from “American Ninja Warrior’s” impressive cultural momentum as the obstacle-course competition has spun off TV series (including USA Network’s “Team Ninja Warrior,” which Iseman also co-hosts) and countless home practitioners.
Iseman, who won NBC’s “New Celebrity Apprentice” in February and has a Daytime Emmy to his credit for “Clean House,” returns next week for NBC’s FanFest. The free event takes over Civic Center park 2-8 p.m. May 23-24 with activities and personalities from NBC shows including “American Ninja Warrior,” “The Voice,” “America’s Got Talent” and others — as well as the latest Denver recording of “Ninja Warrior” for its new season, premiering June 12.
The following Q&A is edited from a pair of phone conversations over the last few weeks with Iseman from Los Angeles.
Q: How does Colorado figure into your life?
A: I was born in New Jersey but left when I was about a year old, living on Happy Canyon Road just off Quincy Avenue for a year, then moved into a house in Cherry Hills — where my parents still live. They’ve been there over 40 years and my room is still there, unchanged, since June of 1989 when I graduated from Cherry Creek High.
Q: It must be surreal stepping back into that.
A: The proud thing I point out is that I still have the (Arnold) Schwarzenegger “Predator” poster on my wall from 1986 and I got to show him a picture of it (on “New Celebrity Apprentice”). “Dude, you’ve been on my bedroom wall for 20 years and now I’m hanging out with you!”
Q: How often do you make it back?
A: I’m still back to Denver six to seven times a year. My brother lives in Curtis Park, north of Five Points, with his wife and my niece. My dad has season tickets to the Rockies and the Broncos, and I still go to games. So I still feel like Denver’s really home, even though I’ve been in L.A. now closing on 18 years.
Q: You have a novel background for a TV host, including a medical degree. Can you connect the dots for our readers? I understand your dad was a pulmonologist.
A: I did medical school at Princeton, then Columbia in New York, but when it came for training I wanted to be in Colorado. We rotated all around for residency — University of Colorado Hospital, St. Luke’s, St. Joseph’s.
Q: And then you made the unusual move of pursuing a career in comedy, including a stint with The Groundlings.
A: Stand-up is my first love. When I left medicine I moved to L.A. and got on stage. I will always consider myself a comedian, and what’s been great with “The Apprentice” and “Ninja Warrior” is that I’m really starting to get back into the clubs.
Q: Including Denver’s own Comedy Works. A lot of comics consider it to be one of the best clubs in the country.
A: Comedy Works is the greatest stage in the country, thanks to (owner) Wende Curtis. Look at all the specials taped there (Kathleen Madigan, Dave Attell, Greg Giraldo, etc.). It’s a spot comedians revere, this magical place where the crowds are always phenomenal, with low ceilings and explosive laughter. No matter what I do, the immediacy of stand-up and being on stage, and getting a response right away, is the best. With “Ninja Warrior” we’re there and calling it live, but it’s not going to air for a few weeks or months.
Q: I’ve heard that from many stand-ups: the intoxicating effects of real-time results.
A: There’s something so pure about it. The audience will let you know if it’s funny or not. People do not fake laugh, not for more than a few minutes. The energy up there is like riding a wave.
Q: How would you describe your comedy?
A: I’m a loud comedian. I’m a loud person and I’m loud on (“American Ninja Warrior”). That’s become my signature. “Saturday Night Live” did a spoof sketch, because it’s easy to make fun of and I totally get it. But that’s really who I am, so it’s great. I’m the type of guy who wakes up and has a couple Red Bulls.
Q: At the risk of invoking a “Ninja Warrior” cliché, you’ve dealt your own set of obstacles, including cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.
A: I’m trying to be healthier. Because of “Celebrity Apprentice” so many people have reached out about my story of rheumatoid arthritis. This UCLA doctor reached out to me and said, “I think for people with autoimmune disease you need to be concerned about what you put in your diet,” so I’ve been vegan for more than two months now. But when we shoot at night — all night — there’ll be a couple of Red Bulls.
Q: What are you plans for your upcoming Denver visit?
A: We’ll be there for FanFest and the “American Ninja Warrior” taping May 23 to 24, but I’m also hosting an event at Lutheran on May 20 that came about through my arthritis. I was diagnosed at Christmas 2002 by Rich Meehan, one of my dad’s longtime friends at National Jewish, and his wife Jane organized an event called Find Your Own Path to Wellness that I’m speaking at. As a care provider and a patient who just marked 10 years since my surgery for renal cell carcinoma (a malignant tumor on Iseman’s kidney, discovered by chance during an arthritis-related CAT scan) I certainly understand what it’s like on both sides of the stethoscope.
Q: And then there are plenty of festivities surrounding the “Ninja Warrior” tapings.
A: My idea is, since we’re shooting right in front of the Capitol not far from Comedy Works, is to do a guest set there, walk off stage, walk over to “Ninja Warrior” and start calling a run. For me, combining these two of loves of my life in my hometown is very full-circle. All my friends from childhood with kids are going to get a tour. My mom bakes cookies for he crew, and my parents come out and watch and stay up way past their bedtime. If people in the crowd are very nice, they may get one of Joan Iseman’s cookies.
“American Ninja Warrior” tapings begin around 8:30-9 p.m. May 23 and 24 at Civic Center park in downtown Denver. Fans can request tickets through on-camera-audiences.com/American_Ninja_Warrior.
Article originally from The Know – Denver Post