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Laughter is the best medicine

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Laughter is the best medicine

When he qualified as a pharmacist, Peter Kelly felt his conversations with patients were stale. He had forgotten that patients are still people and most people have a sense of humour. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a laugh…


I spent August at the world’s biggest arts festival in Edinburgh and was quite surprised at how many shows there were to do with healthcare and illness. There is a great tradition in this country of doctors becoming stand-up comedians.

Harry Hill and Paul Sinha were both doctors before becoming comedians and TV personalities. More recently we have seen the huge success of Adam Kay with his best-selling books, live shows and TV spin-offs.

Simon Brodkin, who made his name as the comedic character Lee Nelson, now performs as himself and talks about his time as a doctor in a previous life. Brodkin also known for his publicity stunts. He is the man who gave Theresa May her P45 at the Tory Party conference.

There is no sign of this supply chain ceasing. Doctor Michael Akadiri was one of the hyped-up new acts at Edinburgh this year with a confident debut entitled ‘No Scrubs’. Expect to hear and see much more of Michael in the future, a very funny act with great stage presence.

Another doctor/comedian coming through is Benji Waterhouse. He performed a WIP (work in progress) show at Edinburgh this year which I suspect will be a completed show for next year’s Edinburgh.

Benji is a frontline NHS doctor specialising in psychiatry. He has already signed a book deal for the title ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here’. I believe the rights for the TV and film version of the book have already been signed as well so that is something you will hear more about in the future.

So where are the pharmacist comedians? Lubna Kerr, a clinical pharmacist with NHS Lothian, performed a one woman show called ‘Tickbox’ at Edinburgh this year. The show is about her parent’s migration from Pakistan to Glasgow in the 1960s. Lubna also performs on the Scottish comedy circuit at famous venues such as The Stand in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Another comedian-pharmacist makes waves on the circuit is Ola Labib. She is signed to one of the hottest agencies in comedy UTC. She has performed on Comedy Central and at the O2 with Mo Gilligan and Friends for The Black British Takeover, which is due to be broadcast on Channel 4 soon.

Stand-up is still very much an evolving art form and in recent years it has moved in many exciting directions. Award winning shows such ‘Hannah Gadsby: Nanette’ have shown you can really talk about anything in a comedy show and still not lose the humour.

Stand-up can be incredible at helping us to see and understand the lives of people who are different to us and who experience their lives in very different ways to most of us. Comedians with disabilities such as Rosie Jones, Aaron Simmonds and Tim Renkow bring humour and understanding to the challenges of life when you are not able bodied. Another incredibly funny comedian is David Eagles who talks about his life as a blind man.

When I first qualified as a pharmacist, I felt my conversations with patients were very stale and sterile. I had forgotten that patients are still people, and most people have a sense of humour. Having a laugh breaks tension and builds rapport, and sometimes it is just nice to have a laugh!

Two other shows that stood out for me at Edinburgh. One was Marcus Birdman’s ‘The Bearable Heaviness of Nearly Not Being’, which is about the two strokes a relatively young Marcus has had.

Marcus is a comedy circuit veteran, and this is an extremely funny show that gives a fascinating insight in the process and procedures patients go through in the NHS when they have a stroke. It is definitely a show that will make you proud of the work the NHS does.

But of all the shows about working in the NHS or dealing with illness or disabilities, the one that resonated most with me was Sarah Mills’ show ‘Badass’. This is about Sarah getting diagnosed with bowel cancer. She re-enacts the 111 phone calls she had seeking treatment and investigation into blood in her stool.

I found this section of the show fascinating as we often refer patients with symptoms to phone 111 but we never really see what happens next. My dad also had bowel cancer … he beat it the first time but years later it came back and he died. This show reminded me a lot of spending time with him when he was getting treatment, and brought back nice memories of the jokes I had with him when he was in the hospital.

Some people will think there are some things you should not joke about but others, myself included, believe it’s only by joking about the things we fear and suffer from that we get through the challenges of life.

Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. You have to laugh just to stay sane!


Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London and occasional stand-up comedian.

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