Matt Iseman is the ultimate Ninja Warrior
“American Ninja Warrior” host Matt Iseman had graduated from medical school and was in his first year of residency when it struck him.
He wasn’t passionate about being a doctor.
That sounds bizarre considering the time and effort it takes to become a physician, but Iseman knew something was off.
“My whole life I was in academics and school and worked hard and medicine was the perfect fit for me on paper,” Iseman told OSDBsports.com. “I love science, I love people, I love helping people, and worked my caboose off and went to Columbia med school and did a residency and that’s when I realized you don’t live your life on paper.
“I was doing residency and I realized my heart wasn’t in this the way that it needed to be. It’s not a job, it’s a calling. I wasn’t hearing that calling.”
Iseman decided to take a year off from school, move to Los Angeles to clear his head with hopes that it would lead him back to medicine. He had done some stand-up comedy in college while at Princeton and wanted to try his hand at that, too.
“I thought I’ll move out to LA and try out stand-up for a year and I’ll come back recharged,” Iseman said. “Instead in just a few weeks, I realized I’m never going back. I found what I was meant to do. I was meant to perform. I fell in love with it.”
Iseman had one last concern: He had to tell his parents.
Iseman’s father was a prominent physician so in many ways he was following a family tradition by entering pre-med when he attended Princeton. After worrying about their reaction, Iseman sat his parents down at a restaurant and laid out that he no longer wanted to be a doctor and was turning his attention to the entertainment industry.
According to Iseman, without blinking, his father turned to him and said the words that have stuck with him.
“Life is short, do what makes you happy,” Iseman said his father told him.
Iseman has never looked back.
“It’s amazing to think how lucky I am to have found it because most people probably go their whole lives and they never find their passion because statistically speaking, how many things do you really try in life and do you pursue? he said. “I was lucky enough to take a year off and do comedy. It’s all been amazing. It’s going on 20 years that I left med school and I don’t regret going to med school and I don’t regret leaving. It’s worked out and it’s been a blast.”
He has gone on to host the past 10 seasons of the popular series “American Ninja Warrior,” appeared and won “Celebrity Apprentice” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and made numerous appearances on several television series.
“I’ve caught some really lucky breaks and kind of keep it going,” Iseman said. “I think one of the things I’ve realized is nothing is guaranteed in life. Things have changed in medicine, the pay isn’t what it used to be, the job satisfaction is down and you have to make a choice in life. Are you going to bet on a career? I think the best thing is to bet on yourself.
“If you have enough talent, you’re going to make a living. I think it’s kind of scary but at the same time it’s invigorating and it lights a fire under your ass.”
His main gig remains “American Ninja Warrior,” which kicked off its 11th season this year. He’s also started hosting duties on “American Ninja Warrior Junior,” which recently picked up three Emmy nominations.
Before he was a comedian or flirted with being a doctor, Iseman was drawn to athletics, including a stint as a starting pitcher for the Princeton baseball team.
That’s why working with a series like ”American Ninja Warrior” was a perfect fit because it combined all his passions into one outlet and he’s had an incredible experience.
“We were essentially creating a sport and what’s cool is it’s awesome to be in a sport where you don’t have to be neutral,” Iseman said. “I’m not Joe Rogan out there calling the action between two fighters and you can’t show favoritism. We get to cheer for every single athlete who competes for us and pull for them to win. We don’t have anything invested.
“We want them all to do well. We’re in a great position to just be fans.”
Perhaps the best part of his job is seeing the real people who have competed on “American Ninja Warrior” and not just the athletic freaks who have done the best when attempting to navigate the arduous obstacle course.
In fact, Iseman says it’s the inspirational stories that have stuck with him.
“We’ve had people a year before who are on a bed battling stage-4 cancer and then showing up and standing on that starting line is winning,” Iseman said. “I think that’s been one of the biggest elements of our show. It’s a show that has more failure than any other show. We’ve had two people finish, one winner in 10 years.
“Every single person who has gotten on the course has fallen. Even the guys who won, they’ve fallen in previous years. Every single person has experienced failure but when you watch it, you see the success. Because they’re not competing against another person, they’re not competing against the course. They’re just competing against themselves and what they thought they could do.
“When you see a Marine go out there who lost a leg to an IED and you see him go out there on the balance beam with a prosthetic leg and you think ‘that’s a win.’ I don’t care what happens, that was really awesome.”
Throughout the show’s run, Iseman has seen every type of person attempt to tackle the fearsome obstacle course, but the million-dollar question is has he tried it?
“Yes, I’ve tried it multiple times,” Iseman said with a laugh. “The last two times I tried it I’ve broken a foot and broken an ankle. I’ve been banned from going near the course.”
With a packed schedule, Iseman is busier than ever.
When his father told him to do what makes him happy, Iseman promised to follow through.
“It’s been amazing,” Iseman said. “We just started season 11 and we just taped in LA and we’re taping in Atlanta. I’m going to Edmonton to do some comedy and then I’m going to be in Chicago hosting something for Marriott. Looks like I’m going to be in D.C. doing some charity events.
“It’s going to be busy and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love to get to do what I do.”