My last laugh


This column marks the end of four years of my writing for the Medical Observer column Humerus. The GP magazine is undergoing a major revamp and there just ain’t no more room for the funny bits.

That’s okay; publication is a fickle business, and I’ll be writing elsewhere…but until I find another willing publisher, I’ll have to stick to serious stuff rather than these enjoyable frivolities.

Herewith: my final humorous musing.


Goodbye, dear fans. I salute both of you (see you Sunday, mum), and also congratulate any others who stumbled upon this Humerus column believing it would deliver a refresher on shoulder anatomy.

After 45 monthly columns from me, and countless more from others, this is the last you will ever read. That’s if you bother finishing it at all—the last paragraph notably runs out of steam. They may say at my eulogy, “He was a funny fellow until quite near the end.”

Vale Humerus, 2003-16. When I look at my fellow columnists over the years—Ron, Pam, Simon and Sarah—I may not have the most columns to my name, but I notice I do have the most letters to my name. A six-letter moniker is an encumbrance in this cutthroat world of column inches. If the Medical Observer bean counters look offshore to replace us, they’ll head-hunt a Bo, Li or Vy.

The last laugh. The brevity of levity. Closure.

Closure is something I have never mastered, even when it comes to simple things like doors. My more verbose patients play on my handicap, continuing to chat through my doorway even when they’re finally standing in the corridor and I have slowed my smiling and nodding to a catatonic state. Because I bulk-bill, I don’t even get the last laugh at the front desk.

So why was I entrusted with closing a 14-year-old comedy column? I warn you again: if I were the man for the job, I’d have had enough material to prop up the laughs all the way to the final sentence. Strange it’s never bothered me before.

Quit the wit. Gag the gags. Seriously.

The adage “laughter is the best medicine” was invented during the post-war penicillin shortage, mainly to prevent pharmaceutical riots. This glib myth still serves as an opiate of the people, whereas the real people want actual opiates, with repeats.

Future readers will get their dose of best medicine unencumbered by frivolities like laughter and Kerry Millard cartoons. One of Millard’s old ‘toons is prescient: a mother clown explains the presenting illness of her baby clown: “He was OK at breakfast, then he suddenly stopped feeling funny.”

Yep, know that feeling.

I guess it’s time for me to grow up and take medicine more seriously. To stop lampooning our profession, its vagaries and pretentions. Cease poking fun at my GP colleagues, specialists (so much material still left) and you, dear reader. Above all, to lay to rest my incessant self-ridicule.

That said (and in all newfound seriousness), it has been a true pleasure mocking you, and I wish you all the best with your humourless reading.

The End. No joke.

First published in Medical Observer, Feb 2016

About Dr Justin Coleman

Justin is a GP in Brisbane and Director of Education for GPs in the NT. He edits a medical journal and two medical textbooks, and is a medical writer and educator. Further details at
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8 Responses to My last laugh

  1. cabrogal says:

    Glad to hear you seem to be in remission. But there’s still a pandemic of ‘funny’ doctors out there. I’m not sure Alan Alda was patient zero but he sure seems to have been a Typhoid Mary. Someone should have given Patch Adams a big needle full of something to wipe the greasepaint off his face too. I’m told there’s now a zombie apocalypse of clown doctors who tumble around oncology wards laughing at kids with terminal cancer. Isn’t there some sort of nitrous oxide maintenance program they could be put on?


    • Good thinking, Cabrogal. I’m just working on the ultimate witty comment for my deathbed that will posthumously give me the recognition I deserve. I am hoping that if I die as a result of an accident, the mechanism will be via an object suitable for brilliant word play. Any pun must be pithily brief, both to enhance the likelihood of repeated publication and also because last breaths are notoriously fickle.


  2. jfbuckley1 says:

    Ha! Justin – as soon as you mentioned being funny until near the end I was taken back to a Woody Allen film (you either like his humour nor not – I love it), Stardust Memories. At the time he was under critical attack in the real world with people saying his work was now not as funny as in his early, funny movies. So in the movie he, quite randomly, meets an alien who has just landed in a field – the alien knows who he is (breaking the 4th wall) and says “we like all of your movies, especially the early, funny ones”. That movie also gave me a line I use but cannot remember the context – Woody is describing, I think, some weird creature in a dream of his as having “the body of a crab and the head of a social worker”. I don’t know what it means but it has never left me. No such worries with you – I rarely read you in the funny (funny no more) papers and have preferred the blog – so I suppose/hope I get to read on into the future.
    Cheers and thanks for the laughs ( the rest of the team too – Pam has been writing forever and you know I love Simon)


    • John, you are undoubtedly my other fan. Which reminds me: I must introduce you to mum some time.
      And you both appreciate Woody Allen too.


      • Welcome to the sacked-Australian-medical-newspaper-back-page-humorous-columnist club, Justin. They likewise sacked all four of us Australian Doctor “The Last Word” columnists a few years ago after a “major revamp”. I reckon the Humerus column being moved to the back page from its previous position was the kiss of death. The income that can be generated from back page drug company advertisements is not to be laughed at, unlike our columns.

        I am truly saddened by your column’s passing – it was always a bright spot – and, in the past 18 months, once or twice triggered my one and only laugh during largely humourless months. So thank you.

        I am also saddened not to have made your fan list. I guess I should cancel my order of Justin Coleman fan club merchandise. Although to have John Buckley as you number 2 (after your Mum) fan is something pretty special – I wish I had the writing talent required to earn his approval. I guess I will have to remain satisfied with my own Mum’s adoration.

        In all seriousness, when I stopped writing my Last Word columns, I was no longer on the look out for irreverent and humorous material (those deadlines certainly help sharpen your wit), and with decreased attention came decreased observation and appreciation of same. The world does not seem as humorously ridiculous to me now, and that is a loss far greater than that to my bank balance or ego.

        So please keep laughing, keep deprecating and keep punning. The world has enough serious writers in it already. It needs more columnists of your breed – ones who can use the word “conflated” after a joke about logicians and manage to not come across as pompous arses.

        RIP “Humerus”. You will be missed.


  3. Jan Coleman says:

    Well, Justin, that is certainly a big change for you and your two fans (now boosted to three with Genevieve Y.) As one of those, your mother, I just want to say how sad is this news of your passing, leaving us bereft and not helping the world to be a better place. We’ll just have to keep relying on the other sort of medicine to do that.
    You’ve been mostly hilarious with all these columns you’ve penned over the years and it’s going to be pretty hard to now have our supply of humerus cut off at the knees – or wherever the humerus is.
    Being a soupcon proud of your writing, I’ve forwarded lots to many friends and others who I think may ‘ave a bit of a larf, too: doctors, my dentist, teachers, our lawn mower man, a couple of nuns and a few lawyers. Some of them comment, some of them even laugh but I know for sure that all of them have a smile on their face and a skip in their step after reading. I just know it! Ah, so sad now! Well done throughout, Justin, and thanks for the memories.
    And what a superb cartoon by Kerry Millard!


  4. anneharrison says:

    Never grow up and take yourself too seriously. Down that road lies infinite boredom, and boring clothes. Next thing you know, you’re wearing scrubs outside a hospital, or dressing like an orthopod. Good luck with future writing.


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