Comedian Steve Day is bringing his acclaimed bittersweet, heart-warming and updated one man show about his father’s dementia back to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. Steve’s dad died of Alzheimers. There’s nothing he can do about it except remember the way he was. Since his teens he has also been deaf but has new hearing aids so now he’s going through all the music he’s missed since then. A lot of this reminds him of his dad. Steve spoke with The Fountain about the Fringe show and offered tips to Fringe first time performers.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?
It’s always a mixture of excitement and fear, I’ve been performing on the Fringe since 1999 and this is I think my ninth time with a full hour show. Every show is different and there’s no way of knowing how it will go. The thing I’ve learned is to write for myself, be honest and speak from the heart and if people like it that’s great and if they don’t well that’s up to them.
TF: Adventures in Dementia certainly sounds intriguing, what is the premise?
As the title suggests it’s about dementia. My dad’s Alzheimers to be accurate. He died late last year of complications due to the disease, but really he’d been gone a long time before he stopped breathing. My show is an attempt to make sense of it. Dementia is a cruel scourge and there’s not much room to find the funny or uplifting aspects of it but that’s what I’ve done. In celebrating my dad and our life and times together I found there was something worth celebrating almost in defiance of the disease. I found that in recalling the music of my youth I was able to tell the story of my bad and how we bonded and sometimes fell out, then became friends again and then dementia made him disappear in front of my eyes.
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
Having a loved one suffer from dementia is a cruel and soul destroying thing, it’s painful to witness but you can’t give up visiting, especially as my mum was bearing the brunt of it. To then, as is my job, have to go out and make a room full of strangers laugh when the last thing you’re feeling is funny is something I had to do for a long period and | got so sick of being hearbroken that I wrote this show as my way of coping. Since I wrote it my dad subsequently died so I’ve updated it, and performing it is much less painful than it was originally without a living person in pain that I was talking about.
My influences are in the songs, and dances, that come in to my show. That’s how I tell the story through some tracks of favourite ’70s music that remind me of my dad and help celebrate him against the painful background of how his life ended. It’s joyful yet bittersweet.
TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, having been before are there any tips or musts you would offer to first-time performers?
I’m only there ten days this year as I find that it’s such a painful show to do every day it wipes me out. Even with people laughing at the funny bits it still leaves me in a state by the end because it runs so deep, and many in the audience have someone suffering or have suffered a similar fate so their emotion spurs mine even more. There’s hardly a show that ends without someone in the audience giving me a hug, and some have suggested that my show felt like a hug to them. I hope so. Dementia is so widespread but hardly mentioned in the arts, at least not in comedy.
First time performers without getting too deep, I would say this. Go first for a story rather than jokes. You need laughs but they should arise from the story. Edinburgh is not a comedy club it’s an arts festival and a corny joke can ruin a good bit. Ignore this if your act is one liners. Also less is more. 50 mins is a good running time, most people, no matter how good the show, will appreciate getting out a few minutes early to get to the next show or to have a wee. Also Edinburgh gives you ten minutes of material, it just does, so you only need 40 minutes. Don’t over-run or the act up next in the same space will justifiably think you’re obnoxious. Save some material for your difficult second album/show. Also always try to leave with a better coat hanger than that with which you arrived.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond Adventures in Dementia?
Well this show will go on until I get fed up talking about it, which won’t be soon. I’m doing a short ‘tour’ of it in different places including theatres, libraries, dementia support groups, university conferences, a tennis club, anywhere that will have me. I hope also to continue doing tour supports for Gary Delaney, which i’ve been doing a few years and enjoy immensely. I’m also busy on the uk comedy circuit and love performing all over the country. I hope to continue that and maybe get on the radio or something. I love what I do. That’s the best advice I could give is to enjoy what you do and if you don’t, do something else.