Charlie Kay – Obsessive. Compulsive. Disordered.


By Jo Withers


Let’s cut to the chase here, ‘Obsessive. Compulsive. Disordered.’ is a good comedy show. But as a platform for promoting mental health discussion it is outstanding.

Snuggled into The Ancient World, a secret nook in an alleyway off Hindley Street, we stumbled upon the rare discovery of a hidden Fringe treasure.

Before the main show, there is a brief warm up by 2018 RAW Comedy Winner, Jacob Jackman. Within his introduction, Jackman uses the word ‘courageous’ to epitomise Kay. It’s an interesting description for a comedienne and I’m already intrigued.

Charlie Kay takes to the small stage and is immediately likeable. We get to know Kay quickly. She is frank and unabashed and not afraid to overshare. We hear about her strained relationship with her family, her struggles with self-hatred and her battle to maintain her mental health. Her presentation is professional, and her material is cohesive and original. But, above all, Kay impresses with her intelligence.

Within moments of opening the show, Kay references the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s a great springboard to begin an in-depth discussion into OCD, and from this point, Kay commands our attention and respect.

Kay steers firmly away from stereotypes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, revealing that the media’s current mis-representation of OCD was what prompted her to compose the show. She mocks the one-dimensional television characters who depict the disorder through ‘a dangerous obsession with stationery’ such as constantly straightening pens on desks. She also under-mines the familiar notion that obsessive cleanliness and over-organisation can be a humorous side-effect of OCD. She sternly re-iterates that compulsions are never fun and should not be trivialised, they are a constantly nagging internal voice which disrupts and deforms normality.

Although the subject matter is serious, Kay is able to balance her dark material and interject comedy through personal anecdotes. She tells us that she can’t watch horror movies as they heighten her anxieties, which leads to an amusing sketch where she rewrites ‘The Ring’ to incorporate the rambling telephone messages of an OCD sufferer. She talks about living alone with her cat and worrying about her impact on the cat’s mental health. Convinced he craves the company of another feline, she adopts another cat, who then bullies the original ‘needy’ cat to the extent that he won’t come out of the kitchen cupboard.

Kay is warm, funny and relatable and flawlessly switches between detailed debate (she also tackles Greek mythology and Freud’s misguided research within the hour-long show) and light-hearted comic banter.

As the performance ends and Kay talks openly about her on-going struggles, I am genuinely moved. Unashamedly, she discusses her suicide attempt in late 2017 and sadly expresses her growing desire to have children, something which will never happen unless she ‘gets well’. With these lines, I remember Jackman’s warm-up description and agree whole-heartedly. Yes, Kay is clever and has great comedic talent but boy, she’s one courageous lady.

Review by Jo Withers

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