By Frank Long, Editorial Director
It is fair to say that most people who enter a doctoral program are clear about what they want to do with their lives. This lofty pursuit requires years of exhausting education and a stupefying outlay of cash in exchange for reliable employment that will last a lifetime. Chris De Stefano, DPT, however, saw it differently. De Stefano completed his doctor of physical therapy degree, passed his state boards, and promptly set off for a career in standup comedy.
A star is born
Maybe it has something to do with being from Brooklyn, maybe it’s destiny, or maybe being a treating physical therapist just wasn’t difficult enough. To hear De Stefano tell it, though, he had been toying with the idea of becoming a nightclub comic even before he completed his DPT program at New York Institute of Technology in 2010.
Seemingly discontent with the security and prestige of pediatric physical therapy, De Stefano hadn’t even graduated before he took his first steps in pursuit of a dicey career where he started off telling jokes to crowds of five people for no money.
Eleven years later De Stefano’s CV includes being a cast member of MTV2’s program, Guy Code, and appearances on numerous big name comedy shows including the Late Show With David Letterman. He was featured in a 1-hour special on Comedy Central and appeared on podcasts hosted by Adam Carolla and other well-known hosts in addition to doing countless radio interviews. Through it all De Stefano has kept his license current.
Never quit your day job
If graduate school taught De Stefano anything it was to embrace hard work. From 2009 to 2013 De Stefano worked his day job as a PT and spent his evening in comedy clubs excavating success by handing out flyers and scraping together mic time, even if was a 5-minute set at 1 a.m.
De Stefano says having his PT license provided a financial safety net during his early years and allowed him to go all in for comedy while some of his comedian friends were penniless. It also gave him a valuable ace in the hole: trading PT services to other comics for stage time. His clinical work as a PT also provided material for his act early on.
“You can only talk about what you know,” De Stefano says on the Entrepreneur podcast, How Success Happens. “There is no physical therapy humor in [my] stand up at the moment but I can still go back and think about things…because there’s a lot of crazy stuff that happens when you’re a therapist.”
De Stefano says he is still friends with other PTs he used to work with and occasionally calls them to check on the progress of some of the children he used to treat. “I’m still somewhat involved in the community but I haven’t actually practiced since 2013,” he adds.
The show goes on
Despite having stepped away from clinical practice long ago shades of PT humor can still be found in De Stefano’s work, including a Comedy Central set in which he riffs on his father’s doctor visits. At one point during the set De Stefano recounts his father’s mishandling of medical terms after a visit to the doctor’s office. He takes on his father’s streetwise bluster and delivers gems like, “The doc said the cartridge in my knee is no good,” and “The rotary cuff in my shoulder clicks.”
De Stefano’s father is frequently on the pointy end of his jokes, as is De Stefano’s grandfather, who he describes as a mafia man drafted to fight in World War II. During a Comedy Central episode De Stefano imagines how his grandfather’s conversations with commanders must have played out, and in classic wiseguy dialect asks, “Whaddaya need me to do, kill people? That’s what I do. Don’t worry, I’ll make the whole thing look like an accident.”
While De Stefano’s star continues its rise in the world of comedy it seems that therapy patients won’t be getting treatment from him anytime soon. On the other hand if De Stefano’s act begins to wane he could one day return to PT practice to trawl material for new jokes. Maybe something like this: “Have you heard the one about Medicare reimbursement?”
Need a Friday afternoon laugh?
Here is a carefully curated selection of Chris De Stefano comedy performances that are mostly OK for the office.
Mafioso Grandpa Fought in WWII, click here.
Stand-Up on Late Night With Seth Meyers, click here.
Full interview on David Letterman, click here.
How Success Happens podcast click here.