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Humor for Every Specialty
Comedians often try to tailor jokes to their audience. But the seven members of Mixed Nuts go even further in their popular medical revue, You're Testing My Patients, customizing their skits according to medical specialty. They know a crowd full of dermatologists will break out in laughter over skin jokes. Pharmaceutical market-researchers will enjoy a jingle about the FDA. And a gathering of urologists would not be complete without debasing the Beatles standard "Let It Be" into "Let Me Pee."
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   The Nuts -- all but one are Penn grads -- have day jobs, and it helps that there's a doctor among them. Much of the medical detail in their skits comes from Dr. Barry Fabius, C'79, medical director of the skilled nursing facility at Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia. Fabius, with Rex Morgan Jr., C'77, technical writer for a pharmaceutical company in Wayne, Pa., and Dr. Sam Domsky, C'78, D'82, a Bensalem dentist, make up the nucleus of the group's writing team. The other members are an insurance company owner, Peter Luftig, C'78; two attorneys, Joe Fillip, C'80, and Mark Pfeffer, C'77; and one non-Penn grad, Ed McCool. The group's "managing nut," as she calls herself, is Sally Katz, C'82.
   The Mixed Nuts, many of them Mask & Wig veterans, have been together since their first gig at the old Quad Grill 20 years ago. In the 1980s they performed across the country on the nightclub circuit in lineups with the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Jay Leno, and Paul Reiser. The team was named "Best of Philadelphia" for a comedy group in 1984 and won an ACE award for writing in 1991 for its "Global Village News" parody on Nick at Nite. These days, they usually do their medical revue for professional audiences, wisely adapting the material for each group. "If we play for an HMO audience," points out Fabius, "then the target and brunt of our jokes largely become physicians, hospitals, and hospital care; if we play to a hospital or medical group, the brunt of our jokes become HMOs."
   Fabius said the group has always been realistic about its chances for fame. "For us it's really a tremendous avocation, and we all kind of had the attitude -- and still do -- that if by some miracle of miracles it takes off, that's great." But, he acknowledges, "Staying in comedy in Philly is like playing the lottery."
   "I'd say our biggest brush with greatness -- and I mean brush with a capital B -- was [in the summer of '83] when we played at the Comedy Store in L.A.," Fabius recalls. Club owner Mitzi Shore -- "the premier power broker in standup comedy" -- called him over to her private table after the group's performance and offered them a regular spot. Fabius was still in medical school at the time, he notes, "so it was either 'I'm going to bow to this lady with the sunglasses in the back of the club, or go back and complete what seemed a little more tangible.'"
   Although "nobody ever had the nerve to quit their day job," says Morgan, the Mixed Nuts have stuck together over two decades despite having "very busy careers, with kids and families and mortgages." Morgan attributes his lifelong interest in comedy to his father, the late Philadelphia television personality Rex Morgan Sr., C'48 -- "a great humorist in his own right ... It might have been a case of the nut not falling too far from the tree."
   Although one might think that the pressures of a medical career would leave Fabius too burned out for comedy, he says it's "a great motivator. The more stressful my day is, I think, the more I can produce onstage. Taking it to another level, I don't want to sound Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm-ish, but I just enjoy being around people, and if I can help make people laugh, that's great."

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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 5/12/98