American Ninja Warrior's Matt Iseman brings humor and inspiration to Indianapolis

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by Sara Galer/WTHR Executive Producer of Digital Content

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - It's unofficially American Ninja Warrior week in Indianapolis, and the host of the NBC show, Matt Iseman, brought an inspiring message to the WTHR Health & Fitness Expo Sunday.

It's easy to see Iseman's background as a stand-up comedian. Backstage during WTHR's Facebook Live event Sunday, he joked with a fan who asked him to do a flip.

"If I could do a flip, I wouldn't be hosting. I'd be competing!" he said.

"We just had the world's fastest rope jumper on stage. I have to follow that. I can do nothing fast. Eat! I can eat buffalo wings fast!" he said.

American Ninja Warrior will be filming on Monument Circle this week. Tickets for the event are already sold out, but we got word last week that INDYCAR drivers Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Josef Newgarden will try out the obstacle course.

Why bring American Ninja Warrior to Indy?

"We wanted to start going around to where most of our competitors live, which is in the middle of America. We started going to places like Dallas and Baltimore, Miami. We've tried to find new cities every year," Iseman said.

When the show producers approached Indianapolis, Iseman said it was the warmest reception they've had from any city so far.

"To be in Monument Circle - we've never had a shoot in the heart of a city, in the streets, to have the city shut it down for us. We know how much it means to Indianapolis for us to be here. So we're gonna make this an unbelievable experience for you guys," he said.

The course, which is usually a straight line, will be curved due to the architecture of Monument Circle. 

"We're reconfiguring our entire course," he said. 

Iseman hopes to call the competition from the top of the monument...although he might have been joking about that.

Iseman didn't start his career with aspirations to be the host of a television show. He attended medical school at Columbia in New York. "I got my MD. I was practicing medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver when I decided to quit medicine to do stand-up comedy. And it wasn't just because of the lawsuits," he joked.

"I left because I had an epiphany. I want to encourage people out there to follow your heart. I realized that in my heart of hearts, I truly believed laughter was the best medicine. Turns out Vicodin works a lot better." 

The hardest part, he says, was telling his father about his decision to change careers, because his father was also a doctor.

"I had to sit him down and tell him I'm quitting medicine - quitting the job you dedicated your life to, to go do stand-up comedy. The first thing he said was, 'life is short. Do what makes you happy.' That's what I'm doing."

Iseman says he loves hosting American Ninja Warrior and talking about the importance of health and wellness.

"You don't have to be a Ninja warrior and hit the buzzer to change yourself. Every year we have people who go from the couch to the course. People who are sitting at home and they see someone's story that resonates with them. And they think, 'if I got off the couch and start going to the gym, maybe in a year, I could be on the course."

Iseman shared success stories from the show, including a young man with autism who said going to the gym helped him learn how to socialize. When he competed, Iseman quoted him as saying, "I can't fail on this course, because just by showing up, I've already won."

"Anyone in here, anyone, I guarantee there's someone just like you with your story, your challenges, who's overcome them just to compete on this course."

After his talk, Iseman headed over to the Ninja Zone to teach the kids some insane dance moves. It was all good.