For many, doctors in comedy conjure up pictures of Jim Dale careering down a flight of stairs inCarry On Nurse. There is, though, a strong comic tradition among the medical profession, including Harry Hill and Jo Brand, both former medics. Dr Ahmed Kazmi is swapping the consulting room for the stage and bringing his one-man comedy show to both Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe, raising funds for charity along the way. He spoke to Glen Pearce about the shows and his route into comedy.
While Junior Doctors in the UK are having a stressful time with their ongoing dispute over new contracts, in Perth, Australia, a UK doctor is stressing over different matters.
“I’m little bit under the pump at the moment because I fly on Thursday and I am trying to empty my house, as I going to tour for five months. I am working six days a week so it’s intense but it’s good,” explains Dr Ahmed Kazmi, more commonly referred to as just Dr Ahmed.
The Warwickshire-raised GP has been working in Australia but the packing is inspired by a temporary change of career as the doctor takes to the fringe circuit with his stand-up show,Doctor In The House.
The show is being performed at both Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. So what makes a GP turn to comedy? “I had been waiting to do something a little bit dramatic for a while,” Kazmi explains. “In school, I performed in amateur dramatic shows and things and then, when I started training as a doctor, I was one of those really sensible ones. With exams and diplomas, all that stuff got pushed to the side.”
He continues: “The only activity I carried on with was singing because I like to do that. So I carried that on just as a hobby, never as anything more.”
The performing side never went away, however, and soon the doctor was looking at how he could combine the two. “I really liked medicine but I needed some other kind of outlet and I kept thinking how I could use medicine in a slightly different way?”
It was, however, a trip to the Perth Fringe Festivalthatsowed ideas in the GP’s brain. “I saw a few Fringe shows – some of them were lovely and other more terrible. And I thought: you know, maybe there is something in this. Maybe that would be a safe way to start, where the expectations are not so high.”
Friends had already found his dinner party stories of his working day comical so, armed with a new-found confidence to start creating a show, the move from doctor’s surgery to the stage began. That shift, though, is a big step, and knowing how to create a show was a steep learning curve for Kazmi. “The writing of it – that was really hard actually. I looked online to see if there were diplomas in how to do a stand-up comedy show? There wasn’t, so I just started writing down all the things, funny jokes, funny moments, or common things patient do.”
Those funny patient stories must be the hardest to share, without breaking the patient/doctor trust? “Yes, the hardest part of the writing was actually trying to write the show so it didn’t undermine the patient confidentiality or bring the profession into disrepute. So, all of these stories are all just generic; things that happen on several occasions,” he reassures.
Alongside the comedy and the songs, though, there is a serious message woven into the show. Is it an important element for the doctor? “I didn’t want to make it completely superficial; so there is a kind of subtext about how people can try to get more from their GP or trying to understand the consultation from the GP’s perspective. So maybe patients can be empathic rather than just the doctor being empathic.”
It may be a strange thought, for patients to be empathic to their doctor, but for Dr Ahmed, comedy has helped him cope with his own tragedy. “My father died in 2015 from lung cancer and this show came at agood time because I needed a bit of project. I thought I could keep my mind busy and maybe raise money for charity at the same time.” It’s a project that looks set to deliver, as proceeds from the shows in the UK will go to Cancer Research UK.
The idea of a doctor turned comedian may seem bizarre to some, but comedy actually forms a healthy outlet for stress for many in the medical profession.“When I was training they used to talk to us about self-care and they asked: ‘How do you unwind? What do you do in your free time?’ I remember thinking that was such a bizarre line of questioning, but now I am in the profession I totally understand the emphasis on that.” Kazmi tells me. “It’s a lovely job and a privilege to do, but you have a job where you see 25-50 people a day, allof them are either in pain or aren’t happy.”
And what do Dr Ahmed’s patients think of his comedy sideline? “They suggested it! I learned very early on that building report during a consultation means that it’s easier for the patient and it’s easier for me, and one of the ways I used to build report was through humour. Then I used to get some patients saying things like: “Oh you should be a comedian!” or “You’re the funniest doctor I have ever met.”
With doctors in the UK in the news currently undertaking strike action, humour is somewhat in short supply in the NHS. Despite being thousands of miles away, it’s a cause that Dr Ahmed has been following closely.
“The NHS is close to my heart. I did all of my training in the NHS and they nursed my father when he was unwell. I am a firm believer that the quality and standard of health care that the NHS gives is really good.” Kazmi says. “I would like to come in and offer some gentle, funny, non-political relief for my fellow medical colleagues. There is so much talk of contracts and strike and it’s just pleasant sometimes to have something that’s just fun. We are all just people and you know this is a job and there is a funny side to it, so I am looking forward to that.”
While Dr Ahmed has performed the show in Australia, this will be the first time he has performed it in the UK, at both Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe. Is he nervous at all? “Everyone is scaring me about Edinburgh – they are like “Oh it’s a beast. It’s just different to any other Fringe.” He admits, “I just have a kind of formula. I work really hard, I try to do the PR before. It’s worked and served me so far. So I am just going to adapt the same model, but yeah it is a bit of an unknown.”
In our regular Brighton Bites preview interviews, we’ve been asking participants of Brighton Fringe to say what flavour of Brighton Rock their show would be? “That’s a really clever question,” Says Dr Ahmed as the tries to think. “I would say Sour Apple and Toffee”
Why would that be? “The toffee is really sweet and everyone likes that. And the sour apple stings on the tongue but you just want to keep going back for a more like, it’s there is some pleasure in that too.”
Should a doctor really be recommending toffee? “In moderation, when someone deserves a treat then that’s ok!”
Doctor In The House plays Brighton Fringe 20-24 May 2016 and Edinburgh Fringe August 4-14, 2016