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For Alum Bill Miller, Laughter is the Best Medicine

“We have all heard the commonly advertised expression, ‘four out of five doctors recommend,’” says alum William “Dr. Bill” Miller, MD ’78. “Well, I’m the fifth guy.”

This self-deprecating sense of humor, mixed with a quick wit and an endless litany of comedic patient mishaps, provides Dr. Bill – an anesthesiologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., since 1999 – with all of the tools necessary to pursue his first love: comedy.

While attending medical school in the late '70s, Bill Miller was honing his comedic skills.

“I have always loved comedians and have had a desire to be in show business since I was a kid,” says Dr. Bill. “I was never the class clown, yet I always managed to deliver the funny remark that caused everyone to crack up. I love telling stories and making people laugh.”

Although his routine – performed at venues like Zanies Comedy Club in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood and at hospital and private parties – has changed over the years, it now satirizes his current role as a divorced father of three children and former role as an emergency medicine physician.

“Medicine breeds comedy because it involves people; and people, particularly patients, are unintentionally funny,” he says. “I rarely talk about anesthesiology, since my patients are sleeping and produce less amusement than the emergency room regulars from my past.”

After completing his undergraduate studies in biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Bill moved to the “second city” to attend Northwestern Medical School. At that time, his interests in performing arts were awakening; however, he obeyed the wishes of his parents, both Holocaust survivors, who felt that a career as a doctor would safeguard a better life for their son.

Lucky for Dr. Bill, the mid-’70s comedy boom was kicking off, and Chicago offered this talented (but inexperienced) medical student endless opportunities to perfect his passion for stand-up. While attending Northwestern, he secured regular gigs at clubs all over the city ― from the Pickle Barrel and Red Garter to Comedy Cottage, Comedy Room, and Kingston Mines. He was hooked.

“I vividly recall one job I had opening for the jazz group Hugh Masekela at Ratso’s on Lincoln Avenue; I couldn’t wait to jump on that stage and entertain,” he says.

Dr. Bill earned a Doctor of Medicine degree, then traveled back to the West Coast, where he completed his medical training and began practicing. For years, he spent his days working in the emergency department and nights moonlighting as a comedian. At one point in his career, he would work for two weeks in the ER and then go on the road for two weeks. He headlined at now famous Hollywood venues like The Comedy Store, Improv, and The Comedy & Magic Club. He also brought his act to college campuses and comedy television shows like “The Showtime Comedy Club” and “The Late Show” with host Alan Thicke. Dr. Bill built a positive reputation among comedy circles and was even asked to serve as a founding member of the American Federation of Comedians Board of Directors, the first union for comedians in the United States, sitting alongside legends David Letterman and Jay Leno.

After he settled down and started having children, Dr. Bill gave up his adventures on the road because he didn’t want to be an absentee father. His new headline act was that of a family man.

Dr. Bill with his three children: Maddie, 23, Hannah, 20, and Joseph, 15

These days, Dr. Bill has established permanent residence in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, near his children (and most adoring fans) Maddie, 23, Hannah, 20, and Joseph, 15. As he waits patiently for a television sitcom deal to cross his ward, Zanies continues to serve as home to Dr. Bill’s act, “Doctors Are People Too,” where he is known for admitting “medical secrets” to his audience.

“We don’t like to touch most of you,” he jokes of physicians and their patients. “Also, I don’t want anyone to cough on me. How do I feel about two-year-olds with mucus-laden head colds? Well, they’re disgusting.”

Dr. Bill also offers the audience advice for tackling the emergency room.

“Whatever you put, whatever you place in your body, please make sure that you can get it out yourself,” he wisecracks. “Yes, of course we’ll do the removal, but, not until after everyone in the hospital has gone in and looked at you.”

His colleagues at Lutheran General Hospital get a kick out of his routine and support his passion through frequent attendance at his shows at Zanies. And, with a constantly evolving act, his fellow clinicians always have new material to laugh about.

Jokes aside, though, says Dr. Bill, “I will perform comedy forever … or at least until I can’t remember my act. After all, laughter truly is the best medicine.”