Live Review: Adam Kay, Cottiers, Glasgow Comedy Festival

Adam Kay used to be a full-time doctor but these days he doesn’t have to worry about saving people’s lives, he just has to worry about getting bad reviews. Not that he is going to get any for his current show, which he premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer and revived for a Glasgow Comedy Festival one-off this week.

The title, Fingering A Minor On The Piano, is somewhat misleading. While Kay is best known for his smutty songs this show concentrates more on his medical career. Kay kept a diary during his hospital years and simply reading from it is a rich vein of comedy, which is more dark than smutty. 

Kay has encountered the kind of gruesome, squirm-inducing incidents that no doubt most doctors come across, from alcoholic OAPs to cocks that have been “degloved” (work the latter one out yourself). Some of his stories will have men in particular crossing their legs in imagined pain.

He punctuates these anecdotes with pop parodies that are occasionally borderline smutty and often in dubious taste but usually laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s the kind of stuff that I’d imagine medical revues do every year but nowhere near as well. Gary Barlow’s Patience is rewritten with a paediatric lyrical twist of “little patients” while Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah becomes a running gag where the lyrics are repeatedly changed and audience members have to guess what medical condition is going to replace “hallelujah” - ie alopecia, yellow fever, etc.

The songs might be on the silly side but they are also often smart, using Latin and medical jargon. Kay is a big fan of legendary wordsmith Tom Lehrer and you can see the influence in songs where he rattles through medical terminology so fast it is hard to keep up.

Towards the end though the show takes a dramatic turn which it would not be fair to reveal here. Partly because it would spoil the show if you see it – which you should – and partly because Kay recently signed a book deal to publish his diaries. And this pivotal incident, which prompted him to quit medicine, will presumably play a major part.  Despite having read from his diary countless times, Kay’s voice cracked as he reached the end of his set. 

This show isn’t just funny and moving though, it is also a powerful account of what it is like to be a doctor in modern Britain. Kay refers to the recent industrial action among medical staff and says that the government told lies saying that it was a strike over money. Kay puts the case that it was a strike over conditions not cash. If his working conditions are a quarter as bad as he describes here I’m not surprised he quit. My mum wanted me to be a doctor. I don't think I'd have lasted anywhere near as long as him.

At Soho Theatre from April 3 - 15. Details here.

Glasgow Comedy Festival runs until March 26. Details here.

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