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Arts in Review

Sawbones is wholesome fun, plus mercury



Have you ever wondered when the best time to put a piece of ginger up a horse’s butt is?

What about whether you (yes, you!) could give birth to a litter of actual rabbits?

Have you considered the injuries the robbers in Home Alone would have sustained if some studio exec hadn’t decided against showing a child kill, maim, and permanently disable people for mass entertainment?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to listen to Sawbones before curiosity gets the better of you and you do something really stupid. Did you know horses can kick sideways?

Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine is a weekly podcast hosted by Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy and her husband, Justin. Listening to it is kind of like when your cool older cousin comes to visit with her husband who is double-jointed and will readily show you how he can bend his thumbs weird. Each week, Dr. Sydnee chooses a topic related to medical history — typically a disease, a treatment, or a person — and presents her research to Justin and the audience. Her soft West Virginia accent and unpretentious, sympathetic attitude give listeners a warm welcome and are balanced by Justin, a comedian with no medical background. He asks all the questions that are on the tip of your tongue and has no qualms about ripping into some ancient Romans for rubbing mercury all over themselves — or doing a French accent that made me laugh so hard I fell off the elliptical at the gym one time.

Sawbones’ earliest episodes focus on “classic” bizarre treatments like trepanation, the use of mercury, and bloodletting, but in recent months, the pair have addressed current health fads and controversies like the ketogenic diet, CBD oil, and GMOs. A thorough and enthusiastic researcher, Dr. Sydnee’s commentary is balanced, and even when she has to take some air out of their sails, she engages with unscientific arguments in good faith without making duped listeners feel stupid.

While Sawbones has always been as educational as it has been entertaining, these more topical episodes really make it something important; Sydnee and Justin are committed to accessibility and Syd expertly splits the difference between simple language and medical terminology, explaining what she needs to, as much as she needs to. The podcast is also family friendly, with parental guidance warnings issued at the start of more risqué episodes. Sawbones gives listeners the information, context, and tools to identify the kinds of faulty logic which have persisted since Pliny (a medieval “doctor” whose cures and remedies included washing one’s teeth with goat’s milk) in the wild, wild west of Instagram teas and vagina steam treatments. There are also more personal episodes, such as “Our Mental Health Stories.”

Justin and his two brothers, Travis and Griffin McElroy, have turned podcasting into a family business since their flagship comedy advice podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me debuted in 2010. Since then, each of the brothers’ partners, their father Clint, and various other family members have all become a part of the McElroy podcast empire, which contains more than 20 podcasts and web series. MBMBAM has remained the nexus of the McElroy brand, and their D&D playcast The Adventure Zone has become extremely popular, having even been released as a graphic novel, but Sawbones has a homey charm, a frankness, and a goal that sets it apart. Sawbones is an educational and empowering comedy podcast with two loving and lovable hosts; whether you’re a seasoned McElroys fan or new to podcasts entirely, giving Justin and Dr. Sydnee a listen is a great way to spend your commute, your gym sesh, or your plain-old medically advised me-time.

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