Adam Kay founded musical comedy group ‘Amateur Transplants’ whilst at medical school, and has since achieved four number one albums in the iTunes comedy charts, their most famous hit perhaps being the sweary YouTube-smash ‘London Underground’ song. Ahead of their show in Manchester this December, I spoke to Adam about macabre comedy and his past medical history.
Tell us a little bit about ‘Smutty Christmas Songs’, what can audiences expect?
It’s one of my favourite shows that I do, there are so many Christmas songs and so many horrible things you can do with them. Expect lots of popular Christmas songs you’ll know completely destroyed.
Lots of your older work has a heavy medical theme, does this reflect in the audience you attract?
Initially when I started out all I did was medical student in jokes, I’m sure you have your end of year review. It started like that, and since then I’ve become, I guess more of a normal comedian. You don’t need a MBBS to get good jokes but I don’t forget my roots. I’m always aware that whenever I do a show there’s always medical students and doctors hanging around from the old days so I always chuck in a reasonable amount of medicine for that crowd.
So you worked for many years in obs & gynae before leaving medicine for good. I can think of a number of examples of medics and healthcare professionals who turn their hand to comedy, Ken Jeong, Jo Brand and Harry Hill to name a few. Why do you think this is a trend?
It’s an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it? There’s something peculiar about medicine that, as a science, it’s quite arty for a science, because there’s a detective work side to it. It’s not physics because you’re talking to people and using your imagination. It attracts people who like talking and communicating. The other thing I reckon, when applying to medical school, it’s very competitive. You always have to be something else. Of course you have to have x number of A’s but they like you to be captain of the rugby team, deputy head girl, part of the drama club and that kind of thing. There are a lot of people with lots of extramural activities. For example, I know a disproportionate number of Olympic rowers and people who played rugby for their country. I don’t think it’s just comedy. Something about the way medicine recruits people means you get lots of people with lots of different interests. The up side to this is you meet lots of interesting mix of people and make amazing friends at medical school. The down side is some people will say ‘well, fuck this’, I prefer my hobby. So that’s why people do disappear, different people from my cohort have gone off to do different things.
It feels at the moment when you’re constantly getting lectured about professionalism and probity and these kind of issues, it can be quite difficult to keep a sense of humour about the profession. Do you have any tips about how to keep a sense of humour during medical school?
It’s crucial, isn’t it? There’s a history of black humour in medicine. I think how this came about is not to belittle anyone with a disease or a disorder but as more of a defence mechanism. If you emotionally invest in a patient, you’ll go mad. You can’t go home and pray for every single person. We’re all human beings and it’s hard not to do that. So humour is a wonderful way of diverting these emotions, if you can make a joke about something that is objectively a bit horrid, it can help you get over it. That is important but there is a very, very big difference between having a sense of humour and a bit of darkness to yourself and making fun of anyone or upsetting anyone or making things personal. No one will ever criticise doctors for having a twinkle in their eye or a nice turn of phrase or the ability to talk humorously about objectively bleak things. But if you’re making fun of anyone or belittling a tradition, maybe have a think about why you’re becoming a doctor. If you’re using it to help yourself and those around you then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I’m sure there are very senior professors of medicine and surgery and pharmacology wandering your halls who were also doing similar jokes on similar stages many years ago.
Amateur Transplants perform ‘Smutty Christmas Songs’ at Gorilla, Manchester on the 16th December. Tickets are £15 and on sale now. https://www.wegottickets.com/event/322147.