Commentary: Dementia inspired my comedy show

Stand-up comedian Steve Day tells how his Edinburgh Fringe show is based on losing his dad to Alzheimer’s disease

Wednesday 7th August 2019

The experience of having a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s may seem unusual material for comedy.

But Steve Day is performing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe which draws on the experience of losing his father Roy last year to the ‘awful disease’.  

The 55-year-old, from Sutton Coldfield, believes we need to talk more about dementia – even if it is a subject often deemed too difficult to address.

He says: “The show is a celebration of my dad who died last year after suffering from Alzheimer’s for about eight years.

“I wrote it while he was still alive yet lost to us and have updated it since his funeral.  

“I got sick of being in despair about this awful disease - spending a lot of time with my father, though I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else, took a toll on me.

“As a comedian I often had to go straight from there to make people laugh when being funny was the last thing I felt like doing.

“My response was to tell his story, to describe what he was like and what dementia did to him.”

Music is an important part of the show. Steve, who is deaf, was prompted to revisit some old songs when he got new hearing aids that enabled him listen to music via a digital streamer.

Songs such as Drift Away by Dobie Gray, Tiger Feet by Mud and Those Were the Days by Mary Hopkin brought back memories of his dad and a feeling of “unfiltered sadness”.

Steve says: “This is the basis for the show, to revisit those times with the help of the musical memories, mostly set in the 1970s and in some way say to my dad - as I neglected to when he was alive and aware - that I loved him. 

“It's an overwhelming sadness, to see someone disappear before your eyes. They momentarily come back but then they're gone again.

“You're losing someone but can't properly grieve because they're still alive. Also they can be difficult, foul-tempered, foul-mouthed and violent. Of course it's not their fault but it's difficult to deal with.

“I don't shy away from any of this in the show. It would be dishonest. 

“When I began writing the show I truly didn't think that it would be funny, but the further I went the more laughs there were. I'm a comedian and my job is to find the laughs in awkward places.

“There's a hefty dose of nostalgia in the show, but also there is humour in how you cope, the things you tell yourself.

“It's the best work I've ever done, trying to be  sympathetic to my dad and other sufferers of this awful scourge but at the same time making room for laughter amidst the tears.”

Steve says he has been overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the show – from people with and without any experience of Alzheimer’s disease.

He believes it is a subject which needs to be more widely discussed.

He says: “Alzheimer’s is a massive epidemic yet is hardly talked about in public discourse. It's almost like it's too terrible to speak its name.

“Any show, artwork or other kind of exposure is something I would massively support - for the therapeutic value to the person suffering and the comfort of others to know that they are not alone in this.” 

*'Adventures in Dementia – Steve Day' is on at Edinburgh Festival Fringe until August 10