Hugh Laurie and Conan O'Brien: "I want actual medicine!"

I didn't get to see this interview last night on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. After all, I usually show up at work between 7:00 and 7:30 AM. However, Hugh Laurie, star of House, was interviewed by Conan and revealed himself to be not unlike me in that he's definitely a booster of reason and science in medicine over irrationality and dubious "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) therapies, not unlike the character he plays on House. Check out the interview. (The relevant passage begins at about 23:50 into the show.)

I knew there was a reason I liked Hugh Laurie, even though I haven't been so much into House anymore the last season or two.

For those who might have problems playing Internet video, I've found a transcript:

From Late Night with Conan O'Brien Tuesday, December 9, 2008

CONAN O'BRIEN: We have something in common, which is... I believe your father is a doctor and my father is a doctor.  And so you're playing a doctor now, and I'm curious.  Did you learn anything from your father?  Is there anything from growing up with a doctor in the family that helped you with the role?

HUGH LAURIE:  In a way, yes.  I mean, not, not...Not to do with the character, but to do with my attitude toward medicine.  Because I admired my father so much, I grew up with this immense reverence for Western Medicine. I think its about the noblest calling there is.

I don't know about you, but I have no patience with the sort of bog-sucking crystals and the herbs and all that sort of stuff.  I'm a great believer in antibiotics and anesthetics.  These are great things that have saved millions of lives.


You know half the people who are here wouldn't be here if it weren't for antibiotics.

CONAN:  I am the same way.  Whenever something is wrong with me, and someone says, "There's a tree root that you can hold against your head and then think good thoughts,"

HUGH:  Right.

CONAN: I push them aside and go to a pharmacy.


HUGH:  Right, me too!

CONAN: I want actual medicine.

HUGH: I want actual medicine, little white pills.  Yeah. Because when people try to persuade you of this alternative course because its an ancient medicine, its an ancient therapy.  "It's two thousand years old." But two thousand years ago people died at twenty!


HUGH: It's no recommendation!


CONAN: If they made it to twenty, it was, "Hey old man!  Hey old timer!"

HUGH: Absolutely.


HUGH: Let's have some more of that tree bark!  But, no.

Yes, I definitely grew up with that.  And that made me (I suppose) sympathize with the -- Is it left brain or right brain? I don't know which side it is -- But that sort of logical, scientific side of the character, which I do greatly admire.  For all his cynicism, sarcasm, etc. etc., I love his belief in reason. It is his religion.  I definitely got that from my father.

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I knew this about Hugh Laurie, only becuase the Amazing Randi has mentioned him in the Swift newsletter on a couple of occassions, indicating that he is a like-minded skeptic.
Nice to have a bit of a counterweight in Hollywood.

Irony - I have a miserable virus right now. And there isn't anything Eastern, Western, Northern or Southern medicine can do for me. Although, given the choice, I think I will go with Northern (UK), as in scotch.

By Dr. Steve (not verified) on 10 Dec 2008 #permalink

I thought Western tradition has had the perfect medicine for this for more than 200 years in the from of grog, 1 cups hot water, one half cup lemon juice, one half cup rum. Even if it doesn't help directly, you just don't care so much anymore.

I still have issues picturing Hugh Laurie as anything but the buffoon from Blackadder. That said, we'd watch House more often if, as my wife put it, "someone wasn't getting huge needle jabbed in their eye every other week."

I love a character that's both pro-science and willing to respond to woo with, "What are you, stupid?"

And don´t forget an old friend of his Stephen Fry who is also a big time skeptic, you all should watch QI from BBC there Stephen shows his inner side.

Wow, that was fantastic. Note to self: watch House, buy House DVDs, push for Laurie at TAM, push for more MSM Laurie interviews.

Steve & Mu,

I have my own related "remedy". Since I know the thing (virus) just has to run its course and I know my "remedy" isn't going to really help, I might as well have some fun... My twist on the theme is to take a whisky snifter, stick in some Drambuiue, add some (very) hot water, stick your nose over the top of the glass a suck the air into your nose... :-) Best for a "nose cold", though really.

These days I can't afford the Drambuiue (let's face it, it's damn expensive), so I'll have to come up with a cheaper alternative, sod it. But I think the Dramuiue marketing people are missing an opportunity...

By Heraclides (not verified) on 10 Dec 2008 #permalink

The 5th season of House MD so far hasn't been up to snuff except for the last two episodes, which were pretty good (including the medicine according to the doctor reviewer at

I got frustrated with House and quit watching after the episode in which House claimed that there are different specific antidotes for particular organophosphate nerve agents. Also, while House is clearly not intended to be any kind of paragon, it bothers me to see a protagonist who routinely flouts every principle of medical ethics, and exemplifies the worst tendencies of the medical profession. I teach medical students, and I can't help wondering what subliminal message they might be taking away from the show.

Also the show seemed to get a bit repetitive after a while. Every episode, House would nearly kill his patient by bullying him or her into accepting a treatment based on an incorrect diagnosis, only to finally figure it out and save the day before the final commercial. As refreshing as it was to see a show in which the brilliant scientist's first hypothesis is not automatically correct, it got predictable.

But that was a while back. Perhaps the writing has gotten better? Laurie is certainly a fine actor, but I think I'd rather have him playing Sherlock Holmes himself than a Holmes-like doctor (even though Conan Doyle's inspiration for Holmes was reportedly a physician).

" it bothers me to see a protagonist who routinely flouts every principle of medical ethics"

Yo, trrll? It's a tv show. It's fiction.

It really, really bothers me when people complain about FICTION not being "real" enough. IT IS FICTION.

So, has House jumped the shark?

The network that produces House will milk the formula for as long as it brings in a sufficient audience for the adverts, and they'll not change a 'winning' formula while it is 'working'. This means that the plot from episode to episode won't change much, if at all, and more sophisticated viewers have to hope that the story arcs that go from episode to episode make up for the predictable episodic plot. What may happen is that a minor character will spin off into another series, as in the example of Frasier coming from Cheers.

I must respectfully disagree with Mr Laurie on one point in his otherwise excellent argument.

I don't want little white pills, I want brightly coloured capsules. They're easier to swallow and more interesting to look at.

By Knight of L-sama (not verified) on 10 Dec 2008 #permalink

Knight of L-Sama:

More to the point, differently colored pills and capsules are easier to identify. There are too many little white pills.

So sayeth the former EMT (who had the joy of trying to figure out what meds the patient was on).

Love Laurie, House. Great stuff, not documentary or medical tract, but a fictional story incorporating medical themes, also philosophy, ethics, honesty, how the world works, how people would rather die than admit to a lie or the truth.

For the transcript, I'm pretty sure Laurie said bark, not bog.

FYI, Laurie and Fry were on Amazing Randi's tv show some years back with an astrologer who read the chart of "someone in the audience." I wonder if he was gently misled to think it was Fry. He gave a picture perfect reading of Fry's traits but it was Laurie's chart he was interpreting and Laurie's traits are very, very different.

Also, check out Laurie and Fry's Uri Geller spoon bending piece from their old BBC show A Bit of Fry & Laurie. True genius.

If you're reluctant to taint your House image of Hugh with images of him in BlackAdder or a Bit of Fry and Laurie, you could always sample a little Jeeves and Wooster:

And he plays the pianoforte, too!

The show gets an occasional airing on PBS in the US.

By Ancient Brit (not verified) on 10 Dec 2008 #permalink

I was just watching this interview on the DVR and just came here to see if you had a comment on this. Sweet.

There's also a video of Laurie and Fry with Randi screwing around with an astrologer.

I only watch house for the grade-A comedy. Seriously, can you guys expect this to be any more accurate than any other show?

On the other hand, knowing digital photography (or maybe just having common sense), I have ceased to watch all those shows that show a cellphone or videocamera picture and magnify it to see a license plate at 2 miles. One of the CSI (the worst offenders by far) had them magnify the newspaper title off the reflection in someone's eye!

y'all gotta get it right. "five stages of house" drinking game:

1. seizure
2. respiratory arrest
3. bleeding from mouth, nose, ears
4. brain biopsy
5. "they're dying unless we....." do some incredibly expensive. rarely done procedure.

extra shots for:
1. organ transplant within 20 minutes of need determination
2. total body irradiation
3. bleeding from the skin

If you like House, you should probably also check out science/medical series which have a similar rational outlook such as:
Regenesis (Canadian show) about a north-American disease study center. It's actually tending rather discomfittingly towards the melodramatic these days, but the early shows were good.

11th Hour (British show starring Patrick Stewart, remade as a US show starring Rufus Sewall), where a government science expert, with a cute FBI side-kick, investigates scientific conundrums.

I almost cheered when I watched the Stewart version in one episode, when someone mentions God, Stewart replies, "This has nothing to do with God. This is science!" or words to that effect.

Not sure whether I mentioned this before, but my friends and I have started referring to the program as Zebra Hunt.

On the other hand, knowing digital photography (or maybe just having common sense), I have ceased to watch all those shows that show a cellphone or videocamera picture and magnify it to see a license plate at 2 miles. One of the CSI (the worst offenders by far) had them magnify the newspaper title off the reflection in someone's eye!
I feel your pain! I'm a web designer and every time CSI feature somebody with no webbuilding experience whatsoever setting up a complex Flash-heavy site in five minutes, and getting it online five minutes after that, I start hurling cushions at the screen.
But I continue to watch CSI because of the pretty good writing, storylines and characterisations. All of the CSI shows have teams of decent actors who work well together (well, OK, I often wish that somebody would finally bump off Horatio Caine); plus, the focus each week is usually on a different character. Unlike in House, where Laurie, as good as he is, can get boring to watch as he goes through the same schtick week after week, without anybody else getting a look-in.

On the other hand, knowing digital photography (or maybe just having common sense), I have ceased to watch all those shows that show a cellphone or videocamera picture and magnify it to see a license plate at 2 miles. One of the CSI (the worst offenders

And conversely, I cheer at the rare occasions when somebody says, "Can't you blow it up?" and the TV expert says "I've enhanced it as much as I can, and this is the best I can get" while displaying a blurry mess of pixelated squares.

The CSI's seem to vary quite a bit in scientific plausibility checking. The original CSI seems to be the most careful (although I think I've seen the infinite resolution video camera there, too) while I can't get 15 minutes through CSI NY without spotting a major howler (Caruso's schtick is too grating for me to watch even that much of CSI Miami).

Hugh Laurie as anything but the buffoon from Blackadder

Zounds, I'm a moron. I don't watch House, but it's hard to watch anything on Fox (like football) without being aware of it and, really, without having a good enough idea of what the show's about. And I've known, deep in my greasy little heart, that I should know who Hugh Laurie was.

I guess I should sometimes just use that Intertubes thing these kids keep going on about. Thanks, Ranson, for clearing a little fog.

And yes, it's nice to see an entertainer coming out in favor of something other than woo.

Laurie's going to be on SNL tonight!

I love House - one of the most entertaining shows on television, IMO.

Orac, if you haven't been watching, then you don't know that House and Cuddy are finally getting some action. Together. It's awesome.

I mean, uh, medical drama. Yes.