Lee Henry witnesses a manic performance from Scotland's Phil Kay
Phil Kay, the Scottish comedian with energy to burn, was something of an unknown quantity for me in this year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
Having not come across Kay since his televised stand-up appearances in the late 90s and his show for Channel 4, Phil Kay Feels, in which Kay explored various themes such as ‘entertaining’, ‘sporty’ and ‘wet’ within the context of a live stand-up gig, I had almost forgotten why I had liked him so much.
I remembered those eyes, piercing and mad, and the jerky, spasmodic physicality of his onstage technique. I recalled that he had reminded me of a young Billy Connolly, with his beard, longish hair and outrageous, side-splitting brand of off-the-cuff comedy. And yet I couldn’t remember any his jokes.
It seemed rather unjust that, year after year, whilst we made do with Jack Dee’s ‘it-was-funny-the-first-time’ act and other less-than-original but safe-for-TV type comedians, we had been deprived of that madcap genius who once ran onstage during Phil Kay Feels completely in the nip.
But interviewing Kay directly after the first of his two shows for kids on Saturday, entitled Gimme Your Left Shoe, and before his adult gig that night, I began to realise that maybe TV isn’t really the place for Kay. His domain is most certainly the live arena.
The stick-thin comedian took to the Black Box stage like a jack-in-the-box. Bouncy and boisterous, he seemed a little like a rabbit in the headlights at first, but somehow managed to contain his inner nervous energy with a hold-onto-your-seats improvisational spiel.
The three young ladies who arrived late felt the full force of his new age comedy philosophy, where love and togetherness are the driving themes. He urged them to integrate with the three young men sitting beside them, and had the place in stitches as they followed suit.
He poured forth a story about the art of synchronised masturbation, which he had perfected that afternoon in his room in the Europa as a team of charity abseilers scaled past his window at intervals, and performed a master class in improvised comedy songs with his strapless guitar and spur of the moment lyrics.
Knowing as I did that the poor man had been completely knackered that morning due to a late flight and a supper of whiskey, I felt for the guy when he came on for the second half.
This part of the show seemed more concerned with wide-eyed philosophical meanderings than laughs, and I felt a little cheated – to be honest – when he immediately decided to get naked.
It was funny, but to me it seemed a little desperate. And when Kay at one point posed the question ‘Why don’t we knock off early tonight?’ I sincerely believed that he would, given the chance.
Luckily for Kay, this spurred a reaction from the crowd, fuelling him with just enough material to go out on a high.
Let's hope that the next time Kay plays Belfast, he does so after a good night's sleep.