Thanks perhaps to the likes of Weird Al Yankovic, Chas 'n' Dave, Keith Harris 'n' Orville and The Baron Knights, the world of the comedy song has for a long time been very much, and quite rightly, maligned. Where are the Tom Lehrers of yesteryear? Where are the Flanderses? Where are the Swanns? Well, they've gone. But perhaps all is not lost.
A couple of weeks ago a version of the Jam's Going Underground was posted on the internet. Links to the song, rewritten as a fulgent and fruity attack on London Underground, were quickly whizzing round the internet like shit-hot cakes. A tricky search eventually revealed that the men behind the song were Adam Kay and Sumon Biswas, two classically-trained musicians and jobbing doctors. They sounded interesting, so with Biswas currently sawing bones in Birmingham, we met up with Adam Kay in London, sat round a piano from Leipzig and asked him some pertinent questions.
Kay and Biswas - actually Biswas and Kay has a much nicer ring to it. Biswas and Kay met at medical school in 1998 where they discovered a shared love not only of cutting up dead bodies but also of writing smutty songs. So they began to write together - smutty material with a medical slant - and perform, predominantly for medical students. 'There is a long tradition of medical school reviews,' Kay explained. 'They've got a bit of a reputation of being shit. So we always have trouble persuading people that the stuff we do isn't shit. And often we don't.' But often of course, they do. In actual fact, Biswas and Kay are in great demand, frequently playing to other med schools and hospitals, putting on Christmas shows and benefit gigs, as well as the occasional spot of corporate entertainment. They also established the United Hospitals Review in 2000, an annual inter-med school competition held at the Bloomsbury Theatre. Kay, who admits to being 'vaguely well-known within the review circuit', also does solo stints in more conventional cocktail bar piano man surroundings for 'anyone who'll pay'. All this and curing the sick. Kay is, in almost all his own words, like a crap Noel Coward in a white coat.
To look at him however, you would never think him capable of the vitriol or sinister humour contained in some of the duo's songs. But then doctors are like that. They have that well-practised veneer of respectability that allows them to think they can get away with murder. Kay has respectable written all over him. To all intents and purposes, he seems every inch the well-spoken perfectly-mannered 24 year-old musical whimsical doctor, but when the Dictaphone is switched off, he is capable of lyrical flights of fancy that would make your mother, or indeed his mother, turn whiter than the anatomy class stiff.
Four months ago to mark Imperial College med school Rag Week Biswas and Kay recorded a bunch of their songs and knocked out a batch of CDs. All of the proceeds from any sales were to go to Macmillan cancer relief. The album was called Fitness to Practice and through a combination of word of mouth, a page on the Imperial College website and Kay's dad floating copies round a BMA conference, the initial run of 500 sold out within three weeks. Another batch was quickly printed. Featuring around 20 reworkings of popular songs, the album is by turns very funny, highly puerile and potentially, extremely offensive.
Indeed, their list of potential offendees is extensive. It includes amputees, Disney fans, pro-lifers, tube workers, Stephen Hawking and anyone who's ever had cause to visit a doctor or spend any time in a hospital. Kay's defence for any insult caused is straightforward. 'It's very difficult to defend yourself because intrinsically it is insulting. But on the other hand, it's all meant in good nature, and a lot of our humour lies in shock tactics and taboos.... The easiest joke to make is at someone else's expense, or by going 'fuck'. And both of those are likely to offend.' He pauses. 'But I'm not like that. I help, well I don't necessarily help people, but I try my best to help people.' Bless. He admits also that 'it is a bit upsetting' when people do get upset, but argues that 'it tends not to be the minority groups. We've had copies of our CD bought by the Wheelchair Basketball Association. They say, 'we love your song about having no limbs'. It's always the middle-aged GP in Brentford who says, 'I think this is most upsetting to women in wheelchairs.''
On the use of the word 'cunt', which was particularly effective (and never more appropriate) in the London Underground song, Kay observes, 'It's a reserve swearword. It's in danger of becoming - pretty much like the problem with anti-biotics: if you use them too much, they stop working in general... There are certain anti- biotics that we're not allowed to prescribe at hospital, and we have to get someone's permission, so maybe either they need to invent new swear words, or put 'cunt' in reserve.' Thinking about it however, he decided that such a move would be almost impossible to police.
It cannot be denied that some of their material is a little on the puerile side. Their take on Lehrer's Vatican Rag for example, The Menstrual Rag. Or the song Nothing At All, with its refrain of 'You look like shit when you wear nothing at all'. But there are also moments of wit and wordplay aplenty, even within the least sophisticated numbers, and these far outweigh the weaker elements. This for example from the bridge of a Coldplay deformation: 'You're yellow like the desert in Damascus is / You're yellow 'cause your liver has metastasis.' And anyone that come up with the line, 'When I'm lonely, I think of Mowgli', has got be due a certain amount of respect. As for the future, Biswas and Kay still get together frequently and are working on new material. Ideally they would like to be able to take six months to a year away from medicine and concentrate on writing songs. Then if it didn't result in a career at least as glorious as that of Richard Stilgoe, they could always go back to healing.
We wish them nothing but the very best of good fortune and suggest they find someone to sponsor them to produce a new album immediately. They should probably start writing their own music too. Or else sooner or later, someone will litigate. Our money's on Chris Martin...
We have eight copies of 'Fitness to Practice' to give away to the readers who send in the best, most original Doctor, Doctor jokes to firstname.lastname@example.org
Or if you'd prefer to pay for your copy, ensuring the warm self-satisfied glow that comes from knowing you're helping to alleviate the suffering of cancer patients, it is also available to buy through The Friday Project, here.
All profits go to Macmillan Cancer Relief.