I TALK TO Michael Akadiri

"I feel like a fraud sometimes. On my socials, I call myself a comedian, but once I've done an Edinburgh hour, that's when I can say I'm a comedian."


Born in London to Nigerian parents, Michael Akadiri admits that becoming a doctor was not his choice, it was destiny and as he moves from doctor to comedian - a career path more common than you might think - Michael is bringing his highly anticipated debut hour to the Edinburgh Fringe.


As a junior doctor on the frontline and the myriad of challenges that poses, No Scrubs sees Michael explore the balance between being a role model and a young man from London. Doctors are seen as role models, but peep behind the medical screens and not all of them are.


Traversing the daily challenges of life within the NHS, surviving life in London outside of it and how he ended up in court fighting for it (his life, not the NHS), Michael's debut Fringe show promises to be unmissable, with anecdotes including the time he told a patient to reduce their sugar intake, only to later find them queuing up in the same Krispy Kreme queue.


Away from the Fringe, Michael has appeared on The Stand Up Sketch Show on ITV2.


As Michael is one of my 9 exciting newcomers to see at this year's festival, I caught up with him to discuss balancing being a junior doctor with comedy, his decision to debut his Edinburgh hour this year and why doing so is really important to him.


You're a junior doctor and a stand-up comedian. Which came first and how do you balance the two?


I balance the two by being mediocre at both. That's the honest answer. Medicine came first. I went to Med school when I was 19, was there for five years, and started working and people had always said to me, "Michael, you're funny. You've got a few jokes." - but I never really took it seriously.


Then one day, I was like "You know what? Let's try this out." so I went to Up The Creek, I went to The Blackout, but I didn't know it was The Blackout until I got there. So I'd signed up for my first ever gig at a gong show where you get a two-minute grace period and then after that... I lasted three-and-a-half minutes and then I was like "That's pretty good."


It was something I'd never done before so the bug caught me from then. And now, basically five years on, I've still got the bug.


What do your colleagues make of you being a comedian?


I kind of kept it a secret initially, because it's one of them ones where you don't want your colleagues to see you in a potentially bad light. But since I've gotten a bit better and whatnot, it's been a bit easier to let them come and watch. I trust myself now. I trust myself on stage.


They've come and supported. When I did my first ever preview of the show, loads of my colleagues came through and whatnot so it was actually a really good night.


What made you decide to do Edinburgh this year then?


I thought it was time. If the pandemic didn't happen, I was hoping to go to Edinburgh in 2020 as part of a mixed-bill compilation show and then do the hour last year. But obviously, the pandemic pushed things back and I was like "You know what? I'm sitting on all this material. Let me push myself and just go for the hour."


There was no mixed-bill compilation in 2020 and I didn't go up in 2021 so I thought, let's just do it, you never know until you put yourself in that uncomfortable situation. I've had a lot of fun previewing it and putting it all together. Doing a preview tour, basically to other Fringes and whatnot, and testing the material has really improved me as a comic.


So I'm looking forward to having fun in Edinburgh for the month and showing people what I can do.


How have you found filling the Edinburgh hour?


Through the circuit, you develop different bits, different sections and whatnot so when I decided quite quickly on the theme and where I wanted to take the show I found I actually had quite a lot of material. And this was the opportunity to really explore things.


There's so much I can unpick about my life in the NHS and my life outside. This double life. So I'm kind of spoilt for choice in what I include. It's been nice to chop and change, put stuff here, alter it - the creative process, really.


You can't really do that in medicine. You've got to follow the script.


How have the previews been going?


They've been fantastic. I was last in Guildford as part of the Guildford Free Festival, that was a really good turnout. A good audience. A lot of fun. It's allowed me to go to places I've never gigged before. I've never gigged in Guildford before, for example, so to have people that turn up and are willing to take a chance on what it, to them, a stranger is very humbling and very nice.


I've enjoyed that process. I've enjoyed Bristol as well... I enjoyed it so much I went back. I had a very interesting heckler - and I've had some hecklers in my show which hopefully adds to the interest in the show.


People ask me "What happened? What did you say that made her go off like that?" and I tell them you've got to come to the show to find out. What the lady in Bristol kicked off at, the video that's on my socials, gave me, even more, resolve to keep it in the show.


So she kept me more determined to keep it in the show. I chopped it up in the video because I didn't want to reveal it all because I want people to come to the show. Come and see why that lady got so mad!


How did you settle on No Scrubs as the title?


It's a play on words of the scrubs that doctors wear and then a scrub also being a term to describe someone who is a lowlife in the TLC song. So it's playing on the double entendre of that word. When I'm in my scrubs it's all "Hey Michael, you're great. Oh my goodness." and when I take them off I can be seen as a scrub.


What can people expect when they come to watch the show?


I talk about my experiences on the frontline in the NHS but also my experiences when I'm not in my scrubs and a court case I was involved in. How that evolved and what not. So there's a serious part to it, but largely it's all fun and games.


Have you been to Edinburgh before?


Yes! I was last there in 2019 as part of the Amused Moose comedy competition. The final was in Edinburgh, and I was competing, so that was good and I did a few spots around that as well. The year before that I was involved in the semi-final of So You Think You're Funny? and did a few spots around that as well.


I've sampled it for a weekend, but I've not done the whole month, so I'm looking forward to being able to enjoy it for that long period of time.


How are you feeling about performing the show night after night, in the same venue, for the duration of the Fringe?


Doing this show is the first time that I've consistently worked as a comic on one bit of material. Having a whole month to do the show - I hope I don't get sick of it. You speak to other comics and they say "By the second week, you hate it" - I hope I'm a bit more enthusiastic.


I hope I get to the end of the Fringe and still love what I'm doing and love the material. I've put a lot into it. From writing it, performing it and hopefully perfecting it to a position where I really enjoy doing it. As I'm doing the previews, I come off stage I'm like "That was a lot of fun" - so I am enjoying it.


Me and the audience have a lot of fun. They get to learn a few things about me and hopefully leave with a perspective they've not considered before.


Have other comedians offered you any advice at all on how to tackle your debut Fringe?


I spoke to... I'm friends with Dane Baptiste. I was about to say we're good friends, but we're not besties. Obviously, Dane Baptiste is a very experienced comedian. He's done Edinburgh. He got nominated for Best Newcomer in his first year - a pioneer in that sense.


So I've spoken to him about it a few times and he told me it's all about speaking your truth. Speaking what you understand to be true and bringing people into your world. Taking those bits of advice on board, I've been a bit more expansive in my writing.


I want people to leave the show, knowing who I am and knowing where I stand on certain things. If you go and spend an hour with someone - obviously, comedy is very subjective and people do it in different ways - but I think, if you spend an hour in someone's company, you should leave knowing who they are. If you don't, then I think they've cut you short a little.


Is there anything you're not looking forward to?


It's interesting, but I guess for me, it's reviews. We pour our heart and soul into producing this piece of work. Some people are confessional, I'm a bit confessional in my stand-up and speak from the heart at times so fo someone who doesn't know me, to come up with a pen and pad and go "3 stars" or "2 stars" - not everyone is going to like your stuff, I get that.


Sometimes with your art, in any job, you have to expect that people may not understand and may not share your point of view. Or may just not like it, because we are all subjective human beings.


So it doesn't really matter, but sometimes you want your just rewards for the work you put in and that's not always reflected in how some people may review. Some people might not get it. They might not understand my perspective and that's completely fine.


So you'll be reading reviews?


I want to be the person that doesn't read them. But I know I'll have a cheeky look. You're in the bubble, you're in that Edinburgh bubble so whether you want to or not, you're going to see it.


It's one of those things, if they give you a good review, they 100% know what they're talking about. If you get a bad review, they do not understand art!


There are many comedians, yourself included, who get opportunities that usually come after an Edinburgh run without having performed an hour at Fringe. Why did you still want to do Edinburgh this year?


I think that's a very good point. You look at posters, loads of people have been doing their poster reveals and loads of people have TV credits already! Before they've debuted in Edinburgh as you rightly say.


It's nice that production companies, commissioners and broadcasters are happy to take their chance on new talent. For me, it was fantastic doing The Stand-Up Sketch Show, it was a lot of fun. First time being on a professional set like that and it was a lot of fun, so hopefully, there's a lot more to come in that area.


Edinburgh for me, there are different stages at which you can say you're a comedian. Anyone can call themselves a comedian, but from a stand-up perspective, I think you've got to do an hour first. I think that's when you really start your comedic journey.


I feel like a fraud sometimes. On my socials, I call myself a comedian, but once I've done an Edinburgh hour, that's when I can say I'm a comedian. To take an audience from start to finish in an hour, there's nowhere to hide, you and a mic, you're trying to entertain them with stories, short jokes, and a bit of crowd interaction. That's a comedian. When it's just your name and you can sell tickets just on your name.


It's a very expensive way to do it. An expensive way to prove that you're a comedian, but I think, for me, I needed that. It's also a way of announcing yourself to the industry. Whilst I can get stuff without going, it's a nice way to show who I am and what I can do. Then hopefully, opportunities come from that.


What are you hoping to achieve by the end of the Fringe?


I'm hoping that I can forge a more sustainable career in comedy. Right now, I've been balancing comedy and medicine, but hopefully, enough work comes in that I can peel back a bit from the medicine and focus much more on the comedy.


That would be a nice balance. We can all have the dream, but bills still need to be paid. British Gas do not care about my ambitions.


A number of NHS workers turn to comedy, such as Adam Kay, Kwame Asante, Ola Labib and of course, yourself. Why do you think this is?


Working in healthcare, you see a lot of stuff that the general public doesn't see. A lot of crazy stuff that normally you'd react by going "Oh my goodness!" but because we're desensitised to it, we're exposed to it so often, you build up a dark sense of humour. Humour becomes a type of coping mechanism.


For me, when I do comedy, it's almost therapeutic. It's my sort of release. I spend all day prescribing for other people, but comedy is the prescription for myself. It's my stress relief. People may think that's crazy, but I find it so relaxing and hearing a from erupt in laughter is just so soothing. The euphoria I get from it, I don't know where I can experience that elsewhere.


It's a way of exploring a creative side that we don't get to in our day jobs. Also, because of what we see, nothing can really phase us. If you've got a sense of humour where you can even make light of dark topics, then I think that helps.


Who are you looking forward to seeing?


I'm looking forward to seeing Aurie Styla. He's doing his show Green, which I know he's toured so I can only presume that's in fantastic shape. I'm looking forward to seeing that.


I'm rooming with Ali Woods, who's also a newcomer, he's got his show Best Friend Ever which I've not seen, but we've been talking about how our previews have been going and he's said his are going well, so I just want to go and see that.


Also, Thanyia Moore. Those are just off the top of my head, but definitely those three I'm looking forward to seeing. It's just going to be fun, seeing people in what I call my comedy cohort - even though Thanyia and Aurie are more experienced than me - people in my cohort, that I've gigged with are all going up, so that's going to be nice to see what people have come up with.

 

Michael Akadiri: No Scrubs

Pleasance Courtyard, The Cellar (3-28* August, 8.35pm)

*except 16 August