Kwame Asante. Copyright: Mark Dawson.

Kwame Asante interview

Kwame Asante, who works as a doctor when not performing stand-up, talks to us about his 2018 Edinburgh Fringe show.

Doctor, doctor, I'm going to the Edinburgh Fringe. What should I take?

Edinburgh during August seems to get all four seasons in one day, and you can quickly find yourself walking up one of the many steep hills with the sun beating down on you!

Dehydration can really sneak up on you, so I try to carry a water bottle around with me. I've lost count of the number of times I've thought I needed caffeine when I actually needed water! It can make all the difference, especially when you have shows throughout the day.

Twisted ankles on the cobbled streets and sore heads after a 5am finish mean simple pain relief are another fringe must. Also make room in your bag for antacids and multivitamins- the deep-fried battered mars bar can be a cruel mistress...

Is laughter the best medicine?

In a high-pressure hospital environment, it's easy to slip into seeing patients as a collection of problems and figures, instead of human beings. I've also found regular exposure to unwell people can numb your perspective. When you're used to seeing sick patients every day, one can forget that the patients themselves are going through the single most lowest moment of their lives. Keeping a sense of humour and sharing a lighter moment with a patient not only provides temporary escape from dark situations, but also rehumanises them, reminding us to treat the patient as a whole, not just the disease.

This is also relates to why I fell in love with stand-up comedy well before medical school. I've always admired comedy's ability to help two people, or a whole room forget its similarities and its differences in a single, unifying moment of joy. Being able to get on stage and be the one that creates that moment is a huge privilege. And even now, switching on a Netflix comedy special or listening to a podcast is still one of my favourite ways to unwind after a long day's work. Medicine is the best medicine, but laughter can definitely help.

Kwame Asante. Copyright: Mark Dawson.Do you ever, on a long shift, blur the lines between comedy and being a doctor?

There's a lot of overlap between stand-up comedy and being a doctor. Walking into a patient's room with their family by the bedside is like walking out on stage. You're being sized up before you speak and your opening lines will define the tone for rest of the conversation.

The last person to speak to the room may have lowered the mood. The last person may have made everyone angry. But you still have to go in and do and say whatever is needed of you. There's also a lot of 'reading the room' involved, constantly re-adapting your words and actions based on the body language in front of you.

Some interactions may lend themselves to a light-hearted approach, while others need to be handled extremely delicately, and one needs to be wary of when the same situation flips from one extreme to the other. Even with the best intentions and efforts things go wrong, but thankfully, with stand-up comedy everyone gets to go home at the end of the night, and try again tomorrow. At this year's Edinburgh Fringe, I'll have to opportunity to try 25 times in quick succession!

What would you say to your younger, obese self?

In my new show, Teenage Heartblob, I talk about how my early household dynamic had some detrimental effects on my physical health in early life. I then move on to talk about my experiences as a British African, who regularly visited family in rural Ghana, and the impact of my weight issues on the first generation immigrant experience. I was fortunate enough that a lot of the issues at home resolved themselves, and this coupled with a big fortuitous growth spurt led to me no longer being obese anymore.

Even so, my experiences during those years have shaped my perspective on weight issues in present day, especially now that I work as a doctor, which means being involved in other people's weight issues as well.

The things I would say to my younger obese self are similar to the things I say to myself now really. Work hard. Be brave. Take risks. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Listen to praise. Listen to criticism. Know when to push back and let yourself be pushed back. If it's important to you then it's important. And if I'd known I was going to get a big growth spurt and lose most of that weight anyway, I would have definitely told myself to eat some more fried chicken while I had the chance!

Would you prefer to have been a teenage heartthrob or a blob?

I don't think being a heartthrob would have saved any of my teenage dating experiences - I was diabolical back then and I'm still pretty shambolic now! For one of my first ever dates, I went to cinema with a girl, and early on in the date I tried classic old-school move of yawning and putting my arm around her, completely misjudged it and ending up elbowing her in the forehead. She jokingly replied 'it's alright, I get hit in the head all the time!'. But I didn't know exactly how much to laugh at that, so didn't at all, and we ended up watching the Harry Potter movie in a very awkward silence.

More recently, I was on a date, and early on I asked her to tell me a little bit more about where she came from. She replied 'Well Kwame, I come from a small village in Dorset. And the thing about my village is, it's the kind of place where you've either been there, or you haven't'. I replied '...isn't that how all places work?' She thought I was hilarious, when I was actually trying to make an honest point.

I think the biggest red flag on a date, is when one of you thinks the date went GREAT and the other thinks it went TERRIBLY. Because if the two of you can't at least agree on what constitutes a bad time, then you're going to have a very rocky future ahead. Imagine coming home from work one day to find the entire downstairs of your house has flooded, and your partner being like 'OH MY GOD, ISN'T THIS GREAT?!!' The two of you probably shouldn't have made it to the second date, let alone invest in property together...


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