The set was short and ever so sweet. Eight songs, three dancers from the crowd and 100 smiles almost frozen on the faces of University of Minnesota nurse alumni.

Even with 20,000-plus CDs sold and 5 million views of their YouTube videos, the four Twin Cities nurse anesthesiologists who make up the Laryngospasms still take great delight in performing for a small crowd of their "peeps" -- medical groups.

"We're kind of a niche group, not the kind you see at the local VFW," said Doug Meuwissen, a member of the quartet, whose forte is taking old songs and injecting medical references into the lyrics and song titles ("Mr. Gasman," "The Little Old Lady With Her Fractured Femur").

The songs occasionally veer toward the risqué. The group's rendition of "Ring of Fire," for example, deals with hemorrhoids:

"I woke up with a burning ring of fire,

and I can't sit down 'cause my butt's on fire."

But most tunes are G-rated:

"Don't take my tube away from me.

I'm trying to breathe, oh, can't you see?

Take it out, and I'll turn blue,

'Cuz waking up is hard to do."

"Waking Up Is Hard to Do" was the song that launched the group two decades ago. At a senior-class party for the Minneapolis School of Anesthesia, a friend sang Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." Afterward, an inebriated classmate said, "Dudes, you should change that song to "Waking Up Is Hard to Do.'"

Made sense to Gary Cozine, who started writing knockoff tunes ("Scopin' USA," "Devil With the Blue Scrubs"). In 1990, the Laryngospasms -- named for a rare, brief, nonthreatening vocal-cord closure during late stages of anesthesia -- began performing locally. In 1991, they landed their first national concert in, appropriately enough, Music City USA, aka Nashville.

The lineup shuffled in the early years, with Meuwissen, 58, joining in 1993; Rich Leyh, 43, in 1998, and Keith Larson, 49, in 1999. They and Cozine, 55, form the current quartet.

They perform several times a year, generally at conventions that sound as though they could use a jolt of humor: the National Consortium of Health Science Education and the Operating Room Nurses Association of Canada.

Their gigs have ranged from a triumphant show before 9,000 in Anaheim, Calif., last year ("we didn't bring nearly enough CDs to that one; they even wanted to buy our [business] cards," said Larson) to the Minneapolis Convention Center.

More recently, the Laryngospasms had some problems preparing for a show in Cleveland. "The only place to warm up was a bathroom," said Cozine. "So we get going, and in comes the cleaning person. And we're singing and he's going from stall to stall flushing the toilets, ca-shoooo, ca-shoooo. We actually tried to get it in sync with it."

Not-so-general practice

Most shows go very smoothly, largely because these guys get together often to hone their skills and pen more witty ditties. "You've got to really like the [original] song, because you're going to sing it over and over and over," said Meuwissen.

They've toyed around with a ton of tunes: "We've Only Just Begun" (as "We've only got one lung ... to breathe"), "Splish Splash We're Having a Flash," "Great Balls of Fire" for vasectomies.

What fuels their songwriting efforts: "It's perspiration -- and a few beers," said Meuwissen. "Anheuser-Busch probably should be listed as our lyricist." The group takes its own credit, but pays royalties for the music.

The four certified registered nurse-anesthesiologists spend most of their rehearsal time on showmanship: between-song routines, audio-visual augmentation and harmonizing both their vocals and their movements.

The choreography ranges from coordinating their use of props (scopes for sundry songs and "doughnut" seats for "Ring of Fire") to some fancy footwork amongst themselves and with audience members.

"We finally had to get dancing shoes," said Meuwissen. "Tennis shoes are hard to dance in because they stick."

All that work has paid off in varying ways. The hits -- 4.2 million and counting -- just keep on coming for the Laryngospasms' YouTube rendition of "Waking Up Is Hard to Do." They also have appeared on CNN and the "CBS Weekend Early Show" and just made it to the second stage of auditions for NBC's "America's Got Talent."

All that practice, it seems, is paying off. "It takes a lot of work," said Larson, "to make this look like it doesn't take any work."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643