Not many comedy shows come into being thanks to a Primary Care Trust – let’s be honest, it doesn’t sound like the funniest of starts – but Laurence Clark’s latest show isn’t your usual work of stand up.
West Derby comic Clark premiered The Best Medicine last night at the Bluecoat as part of DaDaFest 2010, one of many sell-out events for a festival that is really buzzing at the moment. Commissioned by Liverpool PCT, he used that as a chance to explore the UK and US healthcare systems in his own way. A part Daily Show, part Candid Camera, part Dave Gorman style mix of stand up and film, Clark, who lives with cerebal palsy, is a nothing if not an authoritative guide on the subject.
“All my stuff in the past has been about disability in one way or another, so I thought this time the NHS is interesting because it’s something that affects everyone, whether or not I’m just talking about my own experiences,” he said.
He’s not wrong. In his act, he tells the audience his cerebal palsy was a result of his mother being neglected in childbirth while hospital staff celebrated New Year’s Eve. Left without assistance for too long, a breech birth left Clark’s brain starved of oxygen. He’s been no stranger to hospitals ever since.
The show, which contains clips of the follow-on documentary Pre-existing Condition, is a warm and funny piece of work. Although initially full of easy shots – vox pops of indignant Americans and their frightening attitudes towards socialised healthcare, twinned with anecdotal horror stories about the US insurance system – as the investigation goes on, the more interesting it gets. The more disabled Americans he meets, the more it reveals a real sense of the suffering of an underclass. Clark’s point – that thanks to the NHS, we British are fortunate not to have to live like that, may not be the revelation of the year, but the heart in this show cannot be denied. And most importantly, it is funny stuff.
His previous shows have included Spastic Fantastic, where he set out to reclaim the word, and 12% Evil, which examined why so many Hollywood villians are portrayed with a disability that exists to add to their sense of menace.
“It is very important my work says something. Every comedian is selling their view of the world, that’s part of the job whether you’re political or not,” he says. “I got into [stand up] partly to make a point, but to me it’s more about good writing and making people laugh.
“I started because I wanted to write comedy – like a lot of people, I sent scripts off to the BBC and never heard anything. So I thought if I performed it myself, at least it’s getting out there, so that was my motivation.
“I’m fortunate in that I don’t do comedy clubs, not on a week-by-week basis. Comedians that do that have quite a tough job. I have got enough of a name for myself to do festivals and small theatres and that’s better. My audience kind of depends. Apparently there are lots of doctors in tonight – I hope they’ll enjoy it. Dada probably has its own audience, and I think when I do stuff like the Edinburgh Fringe and tour small theatres, yes, my audience is just anyone into comedy.”
The hard work put into creating this show has paid off in other ways – in that 2011’s Edinburgh show is already sorted. Or, at least, is a near-complete work in progress, while he and wife Adele wait for a new arrival.
“I can’t believe it’s done already, I normally get writing it in June. But we’re expecting another baby then, so I see more material presenting itself,” Clark laughs. “I’ve even made a little space for where it can go.”