It wasn't so funny, but Mark Ridley is laughing now

Neal Rubin

Mark Ridley is a smart individual, but even smart men tend to be stupid when it comes to trivial details like their health and well-being.

I can say that because I've been a guy all my life, and I know that if I cut my finger off with a circle saw, my first inclination would be to put ice on the stump and go watch football. Fingers grow back, don't they?

As for Ridley, he did a lot of things right when his chest started to hurt last month. Then he did something classically guy-like.

Fortunately, he's married to a woman, and she has enough common sense that she was able to spare some of the overflow. So he's around today to make fun of himself, as opposed to having one of the most mirthful funerals anyone ever attended.

Ridley, 63, owns Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle in Royal Oak. Metro Detroit's foremost comedy club has thrived in one location or another since 1979, and he's on first-name terms with pretty much every stand-up comic who ever filmed an HBO special.

Micro-managing from near and far, he's been splitting time the last few years between a condo in Royal Oak and a house in Douglas, the gateway to Saugatuck.

On Aug. 15, a Friday, he spent a fun-filled day hauling sewage-drenched possessions out of the flooded basement of the condo.

The next day, he was taking his standard stroll along the Lake Michigan shoreline when his chest started to hurt.

Then it started to hurt a lot — if not the classic elephant-on-the-chest, at least a hippo or a wildebeest.

Ridley started going down the list of frequent heart attack symptoms.

Sore jaw? Check. Left arm numb? Yup. Back pain? You betcha.

Naturally, he wasn't carrying his phone, so he reversed direction toward the house, walking that fine line between hurrying (a good idea) and running (not so good).

He stumbled through the door, headed upstairs for an aspirin and encountered his wife, the lovely and sensible Sara Cullen.

"You don't look good," she said.

To which he responded, in classic male fashion:

"I just need to lie down. It'll go away."

Stents and common sense

Fortunately, foolishness is not contagious. Cullen dialed 911.

Whisked to Holland Hospital, Ridley was quickly diagnosed with the heart attack he didn't want to admit he was having.

Three stents were inserted into one artery, and common sense was driven into the rest of him.

Exercise? Check. Better diet? Yup. Rehab at West Michigan Heart Center in Holland? You betcha.

In fairness, his diet was already better than lots of people's — plenty of fish, minimal red meat — and he took brisk walks.

With 95 percent blockage in the worst artery, though, and trouble looming in two others, the filet he had for dinner the night before the coronary was "the last steak I'll ever have."

Plants are his new friends, except for grapes. Those two glasses of wine that often became most of a bottle are no more.

"Your doctor can tell you everything," Ridley says, "but he's not in charge of your body. You are."

That's one of the pieces of advice he already feels qualified to impart. Here's another he's planning to pass along to his doctor today: "Can you please come up with another name besides 'stress test'? Call it a pop quiz. Call it cotton candy time. We already know it's stressful!"

Advice from your body

Beyond that, he says, pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you — ideally, before ambulances are involved.

Ease off the gas pedal, work-wise. Micro-managing annoys your employees even more than it does you.

Eat smarter. If you can't go cold turkey, even a few days a week will help.

Before you're pushing up daisies, smell the roses.

Figure out who has the most sense in your house, and listen to her.

With that, he signs off, channeling the classic stand-up comic.

"Thank you!" he says. "I'll be here for the next two decades!"

Don't try the veal — and remember to tip your cardiologist.

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