Humor magazine for doctors keeps them in stitches

December 03, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Doctors are funny.

Take that on faith from Dr. John Cocker, a funny doctor.

"People think doctors are stuffy," he says. "They are not. There's lots of giggling and playing jokes on people in the operating rooms. There's lots of witty banter."

Whether the doctors having fun improves the patients' disposition in the operating room is not clear. But that's why they use ether.

Dr. Cocker, born in England, grown affluent in Toronto, had always nurtured a dream to be a stand-up comedian. Instead, he had to suffer a lucrative family practice, telling X-ray jokes to his patients on the side.

Now Dr. Cocker has realized his dream. He is publishing the first humor magazines for doctors in Canada and the United States. It's called Punch in Canada, a logo borrowed from the famed late British humor magazine.

In the United States the magazine, a separate entity, is called Stitches. It's a side-splitter.

Dr. Cocker, as befits a doctor, is not easy to reach. He sails his boat quite a bit, once for a three-year tour of the world.

He leads tour groups of doctors to exotic places. He had just returned from Singapore when a phone call found him in Guttenberg, N.J., where Stitches has published its first issue.

He didn't have time to talk. The next day he was in Aurora, Ontario, where Punch is published.

Dr. Cocker says he has put up all of the money for the new magazines, but it's not really a major risk.

Pharmaceutical companies are lined up trying to advertise in more than 30 doctors' magazines that are currently sent to most U.S. physicians.

Dr. Cocker sends Stitches free to 100,000 of "the highest prescribing doctors" in the United States. "You can buy a list for any group of doctors you want," he says. "Left-handed, blue-eyed neurologists, if that's your market."

Dr. Cocker points out that, ironically, doctors do not buy drugs. But better yet, they prescribe them for thousands and In many of the articles, the silly people are the patients. The droll people are the doctors.

that's why all the big ads in Stitches are for such things as Isoptin SR and ProctoCream-HC and Cipro tablets and One-a-Day Cardura Scored Tablets. To score with the public, you've got to score with the doctor.

"Pharmaceutical companies really can't advertise to doctors ethically in consumer magazines," Dr. Cocker explains. "They require doctors' magazines to do it. They make up about 60 to 70 percent of the advertising in our magazine."

And where does Dr. Cocker get all of his funny material for Stitches?

That comes mostly from the doctors. Apparently, like Dr. Cocker, many doctors aspire to wit.

And since doctors don't do anything for nothing, Dr. Cocker pays 35 cents a word for their input. (Except for personal humorous essays, which compete for the annual Gold Stethoscope.) Cartoonists get about $50 per panel.

Dr. Cocker, who speaks with a crisp British accent, says that Punch is already a hit in Canada, where 40,000 get the magazine, mostly free.

"But the profits don't really concern me," he says. "I'm in my late 50s and profits are not as important now. I have sufficient funds."

It's a delight to peruse the magazine, not only for its humor, but for its tone.

For example, the travel article under "R&R" deals with private island resorts in the Caribbean, places such as Petit St. Vincent, "a private island for private people with room service that totally respects the guests' reasons for being there." Or Jumby Bay, "a very special place for very special people." There is not even a mention in any of these fantasies about rates.

As for the humor, well, it's kind of specialized. Lots of letter columns and one film review of "the Weight-Watchers Film Festival."

Clearly most of the doctor contributors should not give up their day jobs.

The cartoons are funnier than the articles, but these are submitted by non-doctors. In many of the articles, the silly people are the patients. The droll people are the doctors.

Dr. Cocker says he was told this was a bad time to start a magazine. Because of the recession.

"There is no recession for doctors," he says. "Doctors are the single most affluent group in both Canada and the U.S."

The most likely place to find Stitches is in your doctor's waiting room. You can subscribe for $24 ($36 in Canada) by writing Stitches, the Mall at Galaxy, 7000 Blvd. East, Guttenberg, N.Y. 07093. Single-copy price is $3.

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