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June 7, 1985

'I'm Not a Doctor, but I Play One on TV'

JAMA. 1985;253(21):3101. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03350450073025

Television commercials often make intentionally outrageous claims, some humorous, others annoying, as a ploy to capture our attention. Some of these claims are clearly stated, others only implied. In the former category I place the one about the man whose life was a complete disaster until he started eating prunes. Then he promptly became charming, successful, and happy. This one is benign and mildly humorous. Then there is the one in which Steve Landesberg debates whether happiness can be more easily attained through the pursuit of artistic expression or by eating a particular snack and, of course, opts for the latter.

Perhaps we more readily find humor in absurdities that are explicitly stated because of the presumed conspiratorial wink on the part of the advertiser, who, we feel, is joking with us. When the absurd premise is taken as an axiom, the joke seems turned on us, and hence the