If you’ve enjoyed seeing Dr. Mehmet Oz on Oprah, swinging a diseased colon around or waxing poetic over a stool sample like it’s a 1989 Haut-Brion, good news—the 49-year-old has his own show on CBS, with plenty of medical pearls to dole out and new ways to scare you into taking care of yourself. Dr. Oz—or Judy, as Exit Interview knows him best—reveals what working with Oprah is like, why his career would be up fecal creek without a paddle if not for his wife, and how comparing one’s intestines to Nazi Germany can have unintended consequences.
Tell me about growing up in Delaware. We moved there when I was three. I went to a high school called Tower Hill, which was created by the du Pont family in 1919. It was a lot of fun. I met kids I normally wouldn’t interact with, because we were [Turkish] immigrants.
Before you were Dr. Oz, what did people call you? “Lil’ Oz”? A lot of wizard jokes? I played football in college [at Harvard], and my first week there, one of the coaches said, “You made Judy Garland famous, so we’re going to call you Judy from now on.” I went the entire season with that name on my helmet. It ended up sticking for most of my college years.
Is there something useful you learned from med school at Penn that you’ve put into practice? Or were those years lost in a haze of booze and “homeopathic remedies”? Well, the booze was an important element to my upbringing. [laughs] I met my wife Lisa at Penn. I cooked chicken dinner for her, and she said, “I really appreciate it, but I think I mentioned to you that I’m a vegetarian.” So we went to my favorite place to eat—Jim’s Steaks. There was a very long line, we waited for 20 minutes, and I asked her, “What kind of cheesesteak do you want?” She said, “I don’t eat meat. That’s what vegetarian means.” [laughs]
You didn’t pick up on that when she said it the first time? I wasn’t really sure what vegetarians were. I’d never heard the term. I say this with some humor, but it reflects the naïveté I had towards life in those years. Lisa was instrumental in many ways in changing how I’ve thought about health and wellbeing.
How did you meet the other woman in your life—Oprah? It was a turning point, again, because of my wife. I’d complain that the patients I operated on didn’t get that they could have prevented all of it. My wife said, “Why don’t we make a TV series called Second Opinion?” I needed a big guest to open the show, and so who’s bigger than Oprah? We had a good time, and her producers called and asked if I’d do a similar program on her show. I walked out there completely unrehearsed, with a bunch of organs—I looked like Jeffrey Dahmer. I had a great time just pulling them out of the bag and showing them to America. I realized at that point that we could have fun, teach a lot, and change a lot of lives.
I saw the episode of your show with the five cancer warning signs for women, and I’m afraid I have at least three of them. Did you consider calling the show Scaring the Crap Out of You with Dr. Oz? [laughs] Wait until you see tomorrow’s show—-parasites. We try to open with big, loud, newsy segments that are more directed to the left brain. Then as the show evolves, it becomes more emotional, softer, more caring.
While I’ve got you on the line, I’d like your opinion on my diet. I’m 35, average about three cheesesteaks a month, and once ate 50 in a month for a story. Do you think my intestines look like Dresden by now? The beauty of the human body is its ability to recover itself. You completely torched your intestines that month, but if you give your intestinal flora a week or two, they will rebuild themselves, which is one of the reasons we’re able to survive chemotherapy. By the way, my uncle was in Dresden during the war.
Um. Really? What happened to him? He was an engineering student in Nazi Germany, on scholarship from Turkey. When the bombers came, he and his friend jumped into a fountain. That’s how they survived.
Good to hear he made it. Didn’t think you’d have such a personal connection to my gastrointestinal joke. I’m glad he survived, too. [laughs]