Recently, Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Rob McElhenney made headlines by filming themselves getting colonoscopies for the first time. Both men had recently turned 45, the new age at which the CDC recommends getting a colonoscopy.
The actors were (rightfully) praised for raising awareness about the importance of getting a colonoscopy. As if to prove their point, doctors found polyps in the colons of both, and were able to remove them during the procedure.
Colorectal cancers are currently the third most common cancer-related cause of death in America, and cases in younger patients are rising. Fortunately, as countless medical experts point out, they’re preventable. Unfortunately, the screening process is intimidating, if not downright frightening, for many people. By showing colonoscopies in an honest but relatable and humorous light, Reynolds and McElhenney are doing an immense service to the world.
And they’re not the only major celebrities who’ve filmed their colonoscopies. Notably, news anchor Katie Couric and charismatic megastar Will Smith have also shared their experiences with viewers.
But while commendable, not all celebrity colonoscopy videos are created equal.
Reynolds and McElhenney’s video is the shortest of the three, coming in at just under 7 minutes and featuring two colonoscopies.We mostly see the men introduce the video, get prepped in the hospital, and then recover from anesthesia and get their results.
There are a lot of jokes, which is to be expected with the two comics involved, but also some serious moments, as when Reynolds’ doctor tells him that they found a polyp during his colonoscopy and removed it, adding: “You are interrupting the natural history of a disease, of…a process that could have ended up developing into cancer and causing all sorts of problems.”
Three polyps were found during McElhenney’s colonoscopy, a fact the men joke about as though it’s a competition, while still being very clear that although Reynolds and McElhenney seem like outwardly healthy, relatively young men, both already had what could potentially have developed into colorectal cancer.
While it doesn’t take away from the importance of the video, one thing that might strike some viewers is that the men continually say the operation is easy, yet the preparation for it is barely mentioned. Preparing for a colonoscopy involves about a day of fasting and using laxatives and liquids in order to clean out the colon as much as possible. It’s as if the actors are so determined to make the process seem nearly effortless that they’re willing to hide a bit of the truth.
In Will Smith’s vlog, filmed in 2019, we get a lot more insights about the challenges of this preparation. While Smith doesn’t go into too much detail or film himself at this point, he mentions it a number of times.
Smith’s video also spotlights various aspects of a colonoscopy, including coming out of anesthesia. And it’s probably the best of the three videos when it comes to showing raw emotions.
Like Reynolds and McElhenney, Smith keeps a light tone. But he never shies away from showing that preparing for and undergoing a colonoscopy aren’t banal, fun experiences. His mentality is best summed up by something he says towards the end: “There’s a certain amount of commitment and embarrassment involved with being healthy. You just gotta do it, man….what’s the [other] option?”
This honesty is appealing, especially in an era when viewers are seeking connection and openness when it comes to medical messaging. It may also be more persuasive for people reluctant to get a colonoscopy, since even Smith, who’s openly wary of the process, goes through with it and seems to honestly find it easier than he’d expected.
Katie Couric was the pioneer of filming colonoscopies, sharing hers with the world via the TODAY show back in 2000. You might expect a chipper daytime TV host to gloss over many aspects of the process, but her video is quite the opposite. In just 10 minutes, we get to see everything from the preparation, to what an endoscope looks like.
Couric begins the video by drinking glass after glass of a laxative solution in order to clean her colon. She’s the only celebrity on this list not to be put to sleep entirely, instead being mildly sedated. She - along with the public - gets to watch what the endoscope’s camera sees as it travels through her colon. Her video is the only one that shows such footage.
Couric’s colonoscopy video is the most intimate and thorough of the bunch, and her bubbly personality makes the process seem less intimidating at the same time. If you only watch one celebrity colonoscopy video, this is probably the best choice.
Of course, all of these videos are important. Hopefully, all of them will (continue to) help increase the number of colonoscopies in the US - and around the world.
If you’re worried about the cost of a colonoscopy, one fact that none of these videos brought up is that under the Affordable Care Act, colonoscopies for screening purposes are free for all Americans. You can read more about that here.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg