Interview: Adam Kay on life without his piano
Adam Kay

Former doctor and singer/songwriter Adam Kay has move on to stand-up comedy. As Kate Copstick finds out, it hasn’t hurt a bit

Adam Kay

Some  shows make you feel somehow “enriched” – spiritually, intellectually, emotionally. Adam Kay’s aims to leave you – eventually – enriched financially. “I was considering giving a money-back guarantee,” he tells me. Don’t get over-excited, the boy is not daft. He considered again.

Having enjoyed many years from 1998, in medical school onwards, bending pop chart hits around medical chart lyrics for the band Amateur Transplants, followed by what might be medically termed a bicuspal career combining obstetrics and musical comedy, something had to give. That is not necessarily a medical fact, just a probability. He was on a rotation to become a consultant – working, incidentally, with the chaps who have just yanked Prince George into our midst – when he made the break and set aside the forceps and latex gloves forever.

But the break was neither planned nor happy. He was called to assist an emergency Caesarean section that had wholly unforeseeable and catastrophic complications for both child and mother. The situation was unsaveable, and deeply traumatic. “I just couldn’t cope with it,” he says. He took time off, considered the future, and decided to leave medicine. “I have kept paying my Royal College subs,” he says. “Just in case I ever want to practise again.” His smile says he doesn’t think he will.

I ask whether comedy can ever give him the feeling that he got from saving lives. He sighs. “That was why I went into medicine, and I miss it. I really miss … mattering like that.” To be fair, the proportion of his album sales he gives to MacMillan Cancer Support amounts to more than GBP30,000 so far, so he is not a complete loss to Hippocrates quite yet.

Now he is singing solo, he says he also misses the camaraderie of working with colleagues – something he enjoyed as part of a medical team and which he also liked about working with Suman Biswas, some-time one half of the Amateur Transplants team. Their split was not 100 per cent amicable, but Adam talks fondly of their double-act days and would genuinely welcome a Replant.

But do not go thinking that the cherubic and charming Kay is 
merely a singer of smutty songs and first-time stand-up (more of this anon). He writes (he has his own sitcom in development) and script-edits for most of the BBC TV channels, plus Radio 4. Script-editing comprises, he reveals, taking a comedy script and a putting a tick down the left-hand side wherever he deems a laugh to be, and an arrow where there is a gap.

“Then either me or someone else fills a joke in. I mean, you want to get the audience to laugh out loud. That’s the Holy Grail.” And that is it? “You have to be happy with the characters and the plot, but once you have that then it is about making sure there are enough laughs per page.”

His new Fringe show came about because “I was starting to get a little Edinburgh-weary”, (which is allowed given that he has been belting out the London Underground Song to sold-out audiences in basements across the city since 2005), “and then I had an idea for a completely different kind of show”. This is How to be a Bogus Doctor. In a one-hour lecture, he aims to equip each member of his audience with the superficial wherewithal to pass themselves off as a member of the private medical fraternity. He makes it sound fairly simple.

“Of course, the first thing you do is take a history, which is when the patient basically tells you what they think is wrong with them. So most of your work is done. Now, in the NHS, the doctor never agrees with you, but in the private sector you are paying the extra and so he is happy to agree with you. You go out thinking ‘what a lovely man, it is the first time a doctor has actually listened to me’.”

Apparently, having your own white coat helps too, but this show promises to be pretty much a unique opportunity to laugh your way to a lucrative career in just one hour.

It is Kay’s first show without a keyboard between him and the audience. Having grown up on Tom Lehrer and Flanders and Swann, and spending 15 years belting out musical parody to riotous response, does the move to mere words feel scary? “Ah, words, words, words” he says, nodding. “I think am getting much more pleasure, to be honest, getting laughs without songs, making the laughter from … nothing.”

MORE INFO:  Adam Kay: How to be a Bogus Doctor is at Pleasance Courtyard

Originally published in The Scotsman