Adam Kay used to be a junior doctor, working gruelling hours in outrageous conditions for little reward. For several years he scribbled secret notes – a diary of the horrendous and often hilarious situations he encountered while working for the NHS. These notes were published as a book, This is Going to Hurt, which forms the basis of Kay’s comedy show.
The show consists of Kay reading excerpts from the book, interspersed with original songs along the same theme. As an audience member, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you’ve read the book: if you haven’t, there is plenty of context supplied, and if you have then the ad-libbing and songs add enough to prevent the show feeling exactly the same. And the book is so hilarious, it bears retelling anyway.
Kay’s diary excerpts are equal parts horrific and gut-wrenchingly funny, recounted in an awkward yet amusing deadpan. The show is essentially built on making fun of sick people, but Kay mostly gets away with it because of his status as former doctor: you get the sense that without a certain degree of emotional distance from some of the stories told, his medical career would have been an awful lot shorter. However, if he does turn his attention to an illness you have, it can make for an uncomfortable few minutes.
The songs are incredibly inventive, and Kay shows off an impressive musical talent to complement his acerbic wit. Involving the audience is a masterstroke, heightening enjoyment and generating laughs – even if most of them come from him making fun of us.
Like his bestselling book, Kay’s show has a darker side to it: a picture of an NHS desperate for reform, buckled under incomprehensible pressure, with staff sacrificing their mental and physical wellbeing for the ruthless demands of the job. It isn’t a feel-good message, but it’s one that Kay manages to get across with enormous feeling – despite doubtless having given it countless times before. The humour of the show makes this message palatable: as Kay says himself, he is trying to get us to listen by making us laugh. As to the former time will tell, but the latter is certainly achieved by this hilarious and inventive show.