Dr Philip Hammond’s Happy Birthday NHS is not for the faint-hearted. With anecdotes about clingfilm-assisted suicide and jokes surrounding serious medical conditions, uttered as though they were a mere common cold, it is fair to say that Hammond’s comedy might not be for everyone. However, after settling into Dr Hammond’s bold style, there is a lot to be gained from his unique stand-up show, and not least by way of laughs generated.
The show’s premise is based on inviting the audience members to write their own suggestions on how they think the NHS could be improved. Dr Hammond draws these submissions at random and cleverly incorporates them into his sketch. He does so by merging the history of the NHS with his personal, and hilarious, experiences along the way. The retelling of the birth of the NHS, thanks to Dr Hammond’s comedic confidence, is surprisingly informative, in a genuinely entertaining way. He certainly transforms a part of history typically considered quite dry to learn about into an exciting and extremely memorable period- not your typical take-home from a stand-up gig.
Furthermore, Dr Hammond’s personal quips seem too funny to be true, although, at the same time, they simply could not be imagined. His gag-worthy errors during his medical career and childhood anecdotes remind the audience that doctors are just humans. They make mistakes and certainly have a sense of humour. Crucially then, they deserve to be treated as humans in their profession, rather than being forced to work a ridiculous number of hours.
Hammond invites an audience member to write down the best of the propositions to revolutionise the NHS which he receives. Collectively, the other attendees voice their agreement or disagreement for each suggestion, by shouting ‘aye’ or ‘nay’. “Those in favour of forcing cabinet members to use the worst hospitals in the NHS?”, “AYE!” the audience enthusiastically chants in response. Those passing by could be forgiven for thinking the show to be a political rally and indeed Hammond is extremely adept at creating a shared feeling of solidarity amongst audience members. One thing becomes quite clear; all those attending are very dissatisfied with the current status of our public health service. However, rather than exacerbating this frustration, Hammond cultivates a sense of hopefulness.
The show sheds light on some very credible suggestions that could be used to improve the NHS, flipping a normally negative narrative in the media on its head. The most feasible suggestion transpired in the form of a ‘shopping trolley system’ to be introduced for people who miss appointments. These patients would be forced to pay a £1 fine. In support of this, Hammond states the astounding statistic that missed GP appointments cost the NHS about £1 billion each year. Another valid comment made was that drunk people should stay behind after they are treated to help clear up any mess they made during their stay, something all audience members also agreed on.
Hammond ends the show with some real food for thought; reflecting on the recent and entirely unfair allegations against paediatrician Dr Bawa Garba. By elucidating this notorious case where a female doctor was struck off unfairly by the General Medical Council (GMC) for making an honest and unavoidable mistake, Hammond exposes the deep misogynistic and racist tendencies of GMC. His message is incredibly important and informative.
As a whole, Happy Birthday NHS reinvigorates the typical role of a stand-up comedian, for Hammond’s performance, was of course very funny but also meaningful, thought-provoking, and politically uplifting. All in all, his frustrations with the NHS are those that many people can resonate with, and some of the valid suggestions made by the audience deserve to be on the debating list in the House of Commons.
Happy Birthday NHS
The Stand Comedy Store, Edinburgh
25th November 2018
Image: Gaby Jerrard PR