Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author.

by Greg Schwem

A deadly disease is nothing to joke about and, until a cure is found, should probably not be mentioned in the space encompassing a humor column.
Using that logic, I should be writing about bubonic plague, not coronavirus.
The latter is indeed serious. It has killed nearly 1,000 people in China while placing that country on virtual lockdown. According to The Washington Post, it has quarantined 3,700 passengers aboard a cruise ship anchored off Yokohama, Japan, after 136 of them tested positive for the virus so far. Imagine being trapped on a ship for an extra two weeks? With a magician? Not funny.
It has had a severe negative impact on stock portfolios heavily invested in Chinese-based companies, unless one of those companies manufactures surgical masks.
Yes, we should all take precautions, as, currently, that is the only way to avoid the virus. However, it does not mean we should, not so subtly, move far away from that guy in the hotel elevator just because a pesky nose hair caused him to sneeze between the 15th floor and the lobby.
Which is precisely what happened to me.
It occurred recently in an upscale Orlando hotel. I boarded the elevator surrounded by an assortment of conventioneers, sunbathers and families headed to Disney parks. I felt the tickle in my nose almost immediately and knew a sneeze was imminent. I raised my elbow to my face, as is my standard “pre-achoo” practice. I let it rip into my sleeve.
“Excuse me,” I said.
But this time there were no polite, “Bless you” responses. The other riders looked uncomfortably at me and then shifted their gazes to the floor. Most moved, not subtly, as far away as the elevator’s confines would allow. When the car stopped on floor two, a Disney mom emitted an audible groan. At last the elevator reached the lobby and everyone scattered. It could have been my imagination, but I sensed all waited to see which way I was headed so they could exit in the opposite direction. And here’s the kicker: I actually HEARD Disney Mom say to her husband, “He’s probably got coronavirus.”
Trust me lady, he doesn’t. Upon leaving the elevator, he doesn’t need to be sprayed with disinfectant by medical officials in hazmat suit, a scene that played out recently when passengers disembarked a flight from Wuhan, China, the virus’s epicenter.
He just needs some nose hair trimmers. Maybe you could take the 10 bucks you were going to spend on a Mickey-shaped funnel cake and purchase them for me.
We’ve seen this paranoid, accusatory behavior before. SARS, West Nile and swine flu come to mind. Even if we don’t have it, we assume anybody showing a single symptom undoubtedly does.
Now, I’m a guy who has consumed yogurt past its expiration date, sat on toilet seats without paper covers, shared bottled drinks with my kids and allowed dogs to lick my face. Yet I’ve still been prone to this “guilty until proven innocent” behavior. When I see someone in an airport or other public facility wearing a mask, I don’t assume they are taking precautions to avoid catching a disease; I assume they’re CARRYING one. China has, for the moment, been removed from my “places to visit” bucket list. I know this is silly as I long to scale the Great Wall and stroll through Tiananmen Square.
I need to stop this behavior, and so does everyone else. Want to avoid catching coronavirus? Wash your hands often with soap, as medical officials say that works better than shunning humanity. Have someone else push your elevator floor button if you must. Don’t sample those community dishes of nuts at bars. Avoid touching your mouth with your hands. It’s not that difficult.
Coronavirus is not going to stop me from indulging in my favorite pastime, human interaction, nor should it preclude anyone else from doing so.
Even if that human is a cruise ship magician.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: “Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad” and the recently released “The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian,” available at Visit Greg on the web at
You’ve enjoyed reading, and laughing at, Greg Schwem’s monthly humor columns in Senior Living News. But did you know Greg is also a nationally touring stand-up comedian? And he loves to make audiences laugh about the joys, and frustrations, of growing older. Watch the clip and, if you’d like Greg to perform at your senior center or senior event, contact him through his website at