Q&A With World's First Lean Comedian, Dr. Les Muda

Pad Thai diagrams and sustainable laughter with the world's first Lean comedian? Here in a PEX Network exclusive interview, Dr. Les Muda shares the secrets of Just-in-Time comedy, the impossibility of error-proofing jokes, and why he thinks his Lean comedy routine will get the last laugh.

PEX Network: What’s your background – how did you get into healthcare, Lean and comedy?

Dr. Les Muda: I am a surgeon first and a comedian second. I am an orthopedic surgeon and I am in the operating room a few mornings a week. I spend my evenings in the comedy clubs. My first big break was being able to introduce the famed comedian Bill Muri, of Caddyshack fame.
I graduated in the top 10% of my class at the Hartford School of Medicine. The best thing about the school is that people often think you said "Harvard." I performed my surgical residency in Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

PEX Network: Is there something inherently funny about Lean?
Dr. Les Muda: Lean is pretty deadly serious business: trying to improve patient care (and some might say trying not to kill anybody) plus trying to do it as efficiciently as possible to get home on time to my family at the end of the day. So comedy is a good outlet to blow off steam and stay sane. Please, no comments on my sanity. The word "kaikaku" (meaning "radical change") is an inherently funny word. Say it out loud. Hilarious!

PEX Network: Can you give us an example of a Lean joke?
Dr. Les Muda: Here are two jokes for you. Have you done any spaghetti diagrams to help identify waste? I like to refer to these as "pad thai diagrams" because I’m not always in the mood for Italian food.
Speaking of food, Dr. Deming liked to say "there is no instant pudding!" What sort of lousy grocery store did he shop in? It clearly wasn’t a Tesco with their incredibly effective Lean supply chains!

PEX Network: It’s often said that "timing is everything" in comedy. How does "just-in-time" affect comedic delivery?
Dr. Les Muda: Comedy is all about delivering the right joke to the right place at the right time. For example, I try to get more laughs in the comedy club than I do in the operating room. We can apply all sorts of Lean concepts and examples of waste. For example, I was praised in a review of my comedy club routine for not "overproducing" laughs.
PEX Network: How have others in the Lean community reacted to your jokes?
Dr. Les Muda: A lot of people dismiss my comedy, because they think I’m just like the World’s First Total Quality Management (TQM) Comedian. They have already heard his jokes and he wasn’t very funny, so people are fearful of the "comedian of the month" syndrome. I mean, my jokes are basically the same as the TQM Comedian, but my laughs are more sustainable because of the approach I take.
I am far funnier than the World’s First Six Sigma Comedian. Actually, he hasn’t gotten any gigs yet because he still needs to use a few more statistical tools before he gets his comedy Black Belt. I don’t have a belt, and I don’t need one, because my surgical scrubs have a draw string!

PEX Network: Do you use Lean techniques to help you prepare for a stand up gig? If so, what techniques do you find most useful?
Dr. Les Muda: I try to use the voice of the customer in preparing for my routines, but mostly that voice says "stop, get off the stage." But, as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs said, the customer doesn’t always know what they want.
I also try hard not to batch up my joke writing. Jokes come to me in small batches and I store them in a little humor "supermarket" that I come back to when putting together one of my routines.
I really wish I could learn how to error proof a joke to ensure that it is always going to be funny. When a joke doesn’t get laughs, that’s not a failure – it’s an opportunity to improve. PDCA!
Thanks to my study of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, I have learned 94% of my bad jokes aren’t my fault... it’s the system. Comedy starts at the top – and my CEO isn’t very funny...

PEX Network: Finally, I understand that you were in discussion with some of the major American TV networks about launching two new programs – "So you think you can operate?" and "Hospital Nightmares". How advanced are the talks? Can we expect to see these shows coming soon to a screen near us?
Dr. Les Muda: I’m a bit discouraged about this at the moment. I contacted Gordon Ramsey about doing Hospital Nightmares together and he just screamed and cursed at me. Not surprising. I also contacted Simon Cowell and he said, "No, absolutely not. That’s dreadful," but he was generally positive about the show concept. He said his people will call. Talk about the waste of waiting! My pager will go off eventually, I believe.

If you haven't met Dr. Muda before, you can check out his audition tape: