Galens Medical Society Smoker – “Old Stool”
7 p.m. Tomorrow and Saturday
At Mendelssohn
Tickets starting at $10

Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen/Daily

The stereotypical medical student wears a white coat, carries a stethoscope and has no life outside the library. With this image in mind, audiences of this year’s Galens Smoker, the medical school’s annual musical comedy, might be in for a surprise. Written, directed, produced and performed by University of Michigan medical students, the Smoker is packed full of raunchy innuendos and the humorous roasting of med school professors.

Though most medical schools hold some show of this sort, the University’s is one of the oldest in the country. The first documented Smoker was held by medical students at the Michigan Union in 1918. The show was originally a compilation of comic skits featuring pop culture elements of the time, issues in the medical school and the mocking of favorite faculty members.

Dr. Robert Bartlett, University of Michigan Medical School alum and current professor of Surgery, recalls the atmosphere of the Smoker nearly 40 years ago as being somewhat racy.

“When I was a medical student, I participated in the ’61, ’62 and ’63 Smokers,” Bartlett said. “Many of the skits I was involved in were raunchy and vulgar to say the least, but attendees were limited to the men audiences. Everyone was encouraged to smoke a cigar while we gathered to make fun of each other and the events of the time.”

Up until the ’70s, women were forbidden membership to the Galens Medical Society, a group formed by medical students. According to Bartlett, it “began (in) about 1914 as a service organization whose primary focus was to support children’s health activities throughout Washtenaw County.”

The original medical society consisted of 14 juniors and 14 seniors from the medical school, and outgoing members determined membership in the group.

Bartlett’s creative insight, as well as the introduction of women audiences and participants in the late ’70s, helped change the definition of the Smoker forever. In 1962, he thought the participants could do better than just a series of skits, so Bartlett proposed doing a parody of popular musical “The Music Man,” aptly titled “The Medicine Man.” This production was the first “modern” Smoker and set the precedent for years to come.

Despite the format change, the Smoker’s characteristic vulgarity and faculty roast continue to be its defining qualities.

“The most surprising thing about the Smoker is always the irreverence of it,” said Geoffrey Sisk, co-director of this year’s Smoker and fourth year med student. “The Smoker is — in every sense of the word — uncensored, and I’m sure many people are shocked at how brutally honest we are about our own lives and the lives of our professors and attendings. In a sense, it’s shocking that we don’t get more complaints, or that we don’t suffer consequences at the hands of angry professors.”

Poking fun at — or rather ripping apart — medical school professors could be interpreted as an easy way for medical students to find themselves in trouble, but the faculty knows that being part of the show is more of a compliment than an insult.

As a past participant and current professor, Bartlett understands the Smoker’s comedic roasting.

“It is a silent honor among faculty members if you are mentioned in the Smoker,” Bartlett said. “It is the people who don’t get mentioned that should start to worry.”

This year’s Galens Smoker, “Old Stool,” parodies the classic Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn movie “Old School.”

“As in the movie, a certain doc gets a second chance at bachelorhood, and other docs rally around him and try to start a fraternity for faculty, much to the dean’s dismay. Hilarity ensues,” Co-director and fourth year med student Tom Scott-Craig said.

Although the movie being parodied isn’t a musical, the Galens script includes several “spoof songs” like “Docs Just Want to Have Fun” and an old school rap by the leading character. The songs also include dances, which are part of annual traditions like the “Babe Dance” and the “Stud Dance” typically performed by senior students.

“The latter is basically a bunch of guys bumbling through a choreographed dance,” Scott-Craig said. “And then we take our shirts off.”

The content of this year’s Smoker shatters the usual image of a studious University medical student and uncovers the fact that even the people beneath the white coats have interests beyond medicine.

“The stereotype is ‘work work work’ — don’t get me wrong, that’s true — but the wealth of talent and the collective sense of humor among med students is mind-boggling,” Scott-Craig said. “I think that’s also part of the surprise of the show, even to fellow students, like ‘Wow she’s an incredible singer’ or ‘I didn’t know that guy could shred on the guitar!’ ”

Producer Joshua Cohn, fourth year med student, agrees with Scott-Craig and believes that medical school is changing.

“The stereotype of the medical student without interests in anything else besides studying, if such a person ever really existed, is dying off,” said Cohn. “People come into school with amazing backgrounds, interests and talents, and they don’t want to lose that part of themselves.”

Watching the rehearsal, it’s clear that the participants are more than just medical students. In fact, except for the stray pair of scrubs here and there, it was difficult to distinguish the med students from the “real” music students practicing “The Pirates of Penzance” in the Student Theatre Arts Complex.

Even though the general audience may not understand an inside joke within the medical community here and there, the “rated R” Galens Smoker promises a well-crafted riot of laughter and exactly the kind of tasteless humor college students crave most.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *