Successful stand-ups usually have a memorable on-stage persona; it may be manic, taciturn or just ‘nice’, but it’s what they’re remembered for. David Kay comes across as someone who’s fundamentally bashful; his hand nervously fingering the microphone stand, his gaze falling more often on the floor than at the audience in front of him. He’s an unassuming, passive figure whose mantra about most things in life appears to be: “Nothing we can do about that.” Bizarrely, it works — especially in such a potentially cavernous space as the Assembly Rooms Music Room, surely one of the least conducive venues for intimate comedy in the city.
He does well, but there were times when he felt like a small stone being thrown into a large, still lake.
Indeed, Kay recognises this from the start, suggesting that the venue was a deliberate choice on his part to ensure that his audience doesn’t “roast” in the heat. Given some of the subterranean sweat-boxes many of us will have endured during the last few weeks in the name of comedy, this opening gambit works like a dream; he’s got the audience’s gratitude from the start.
Kay’s material, for the most part, is mild, cutting edge only because it doesn’t appear to be cutting edge. Observational material about the changing weather this Fringe (Summer, Monsoon and Winter in just three weeks) or the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games are entertaining enough, though they perhaps only really come alive when tinged with mild annoyance—arguably the height of Kay’s emotional commitment—at the reorganisation of Glasgow’s transport infrastructure for the duration of the festival of sport.
Kay’s undoubtedly at his strongest when he gets into his flight of fancies; the wee man with his head in the clouds, talking about popping down to London to have a “deep and meaningful debate” with David Cameron about Scottish Independence which, if nothing else, shows how words and phrases can lose any meaning they might once have had through their unceasing repetition. He gets his laughs by treating the serious lightheartedly (such as the impending Independence Referendum) and considering the seemingly inconsequential in the most earnest manner possible. His riff on a “bad” childhood experience making some rice pudding—which, he insists, was so traumatic it’s why he took up a career in comedy—is undoubtedly the highlight of the show.
And yet. Despite various television appearances in recent years, Kay is arguably not such a household name (even in Scotland) to get away with doing just two gigs in the Assembly Rooms’ biggest space. He does well, but there were times when he felt like a small stone being thrown into a large, still lake. Maybe he shouldn’t be so keen to move out of those smaller, albeit sweatier, rooms just yet.