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I TALK TO Kwame Asante

Junior Doctor/Comedian Kwame Asante is ready to make his mark on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with his debut hour this summer, Open Arms.

I caught up with Kwame for a chat about juggling life as a Junior Doctor and a comedian, his hopes for the future and more importantly how he’s feeling ahead of his Fringe debut.


This is your debut year at the Fringe. How are all the preparations going?


Yes, it’s my debut year and the preparations are going good. I’m still at work full-time so it’s been quite hectic combining prep for the Fringe with work. That said, I’ve still managed to get a good number of previews in and some smaller new material gigs to tighten up a few bits and pieces. I’m happy with how things are going.


How do you juggle the two professions? Being a Junior Doctor and being a stand up comedian?


I just have to be really organised and disciplined. I have to be good at creating time for myself and taking opportunities whenever I’ve got a half day or if there’s something where I am able to get away and go to London or go to Brum and get a gig in. I just have to seize opportunities as and when they come.


There are a lot of late nights, a lot of travelling and long days. But because it’s something I care a lot about I just find the time and make it work really.


You’ve been on the circuit for a few years now. Why 2017 for your debut Fringe hour?


A number of factors. It’s probably a bit later than I would have liked to have left it. A big part of why it’s this year is due to the structure of medical training in the UK where Med school is five or six years long and then once you graduate, all UK graduates have to go into a two-year foundation programme. You’re  a qualified doctor but you have to do your first couple of years under supervision.


You’re not allowed to take a break between finishing Med school and starting that two-year foundation rotation. Now I’m coming to the end of those two years so it’s only now that there’s a natural break in training so it’s almost by default that this year is the first time that I can commit to a full month in Edinburgh.


Where does the title of the show, Open Arms, come from? Was it title first and then the show?


It was a mixture of things. I did a work-in-progress show in 2014 and I called it Basket Case, because I found a baby photo of me in a washing basket and that was basically my poster. So I thought that would be a nice theme to carry on with for the next time I get to do something.

I found another baby picture of me standing in the street with my arms open and I thought Open Arms would be a good title and you could have that photo as the poster. But also, I think it resonates well with what the show’s about.


What is the show about?


I talk a lot about how I’ve had to open up and accept a lot of change. Starting up a career as a doctor and all the new responsibilities I have to take on, leaving home - I now live in Birmingham. New city, independence.


Also, because it’s my debut year it’s like a collection of all of the best material I’ve written since I started gigging and it’s a broad enough title that allows me to pull together the best of what I have.


How long have you been working on this year’s show for?


I’d say probably for the last year-and-a-half or so. They say that from the day you start gigging to your debut that’s how long you start prepping it. When I was coming to the end of medical school and had my final exams, I’d put comedy on hold and then when I finished the exams I moved to Birmingham and started work I found it all rather intense so I ended up not doing any stand up for almost two years.


Then I picked up a pen and starting writing, starts gigging again and then gradually building and building to my debut.


How have the previews been going?


I’ve done a couple in London, a couple in Brum and one in Bristol coming up. So far so good. I think with every preview the show changes a lot which is good and bad. Good because it prompts rethinking and rejigging and making things tighter. But at the same time, with every little tweak it almost feels like a different show.


It’s constantly getting better with every preview. It’s the right way to go.


How are you finding filling the Edinburgh hour?


It’s definitely a challenge. Having an hour of material that you think is funny enough to entertain people, trying to structure it into a set that flows. Trying to remember it all!


I’ve definitely found it to be a big challenge, but I’ve been a fan of stand up for a while and I’ve watched a lot of debut Edinburgh shows and I like the challenge and opportunity to do that myself.


What came first for you? Was it the desire to become a Junior Doctor or the desire to be a comedian?


I actually got into comedy well before pursuing medicine. My first ever gig was when I was 16/17 back at sixth form. A friend dared me to do some stand up at a talent show. Medicine has always been in the back burner I guess because my dad’s a Doctor, my mum’s a former Nurse and now a Medical Secretary and my little brother has recently just got into medicine so we’re quite a medical house.


I think medicine was always a possibility but stand up definitely came first in that I started that first. I was lucky enough to go to medical school in London which made doing comedy whilst studying fairly easy because I was right in the middle of the city so I could just do the two.


Had I gone to med school further away, I’m not sure how it would have gone with comedy.Things have just worked out for me where I’ve been able to keep both going for a while.


What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?


I’ve gone up in the past for a week or two here and there, but by doing the full run I’m looking forward to coming back from the Fringe a better performer. I’m looking forward to how much I’ll develop after performing every night of the run and the extra spots I’lll pick up along the way.


One of the downsides on splitting time between medicine and stand up is that, you do your best when you’re on stage, but you always feel like you’re not fully committing yourself to it. I can’t expect myself to progress or be as slick as other comics. You get out what you put in and a lot of the time I can’t put in as much as I’d like to.


I’m looking forward to having the full month at the Fringe to fully commit myself, get better and develop. I’m also looking forward to realising more of my potential.


Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?


I really enjoy writing and performing and at the moment I’ve got the attitude that if I do what I do to the best of my ability, opportunities will come. I’d love to write for TV. I’m keeping options open!


Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?


Laid-back. Intelligent. Silly. Warm. Unique.


Kwame Asante: Open Arms runs from Saturday 5th to Sunday 27th August at 6:45pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Two). No show Wednesday 16th August. Previews 2nd to 4th August.

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