COMEDY / The plink, plink, fizz of a funny man: Spontaneity is what keeps Phil Kay bubbling. So don't be surprised if his act falls flat, he tells Ben Thompson

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YOU KNOW that feeling when a headache or indigestion tablet fizzes in a glass and the whole thing is strangely enjoyable and you wish it could fizz a while longer? At his best, the Glasgow-based comedian Phil Kay, 25, makes this happen. He sets up a little thrill of almost physical pleasure between himself and his audience, and just keeps it going for a bit longer and a bit longer - 'like a ping-pong ball on a fountain' is how he describes it. The first time I saw Kay was at this year's Edinburgh Festival. The room was exhilarated, hanging on his every word - literally, it felt like, as he seemed to drag the audience hither and thither with the same joyful abandon with which he twirled and furled his microphone lead. Towards the end of the show, someone pulled him up - in a friendly way - on a minor factual inconsistency between two rambling reminiscences. For a couple of seconds Kay was left stranded in mid-air, like a cartoon character who looks down to see a canyon, except that he landed on a cushion of laughter. He remembers this moment with some fondness.

'Comedy is not one of the arts,' the straggly-haired, denim-clad Kay observes, matter-of-factly. 'It can be as good as anything whilst it's happening, but moments after, it's gone.' Maybe this very fleetingness explains why comedy's leading practitioners all seem to work so hard at making a career out of it. It's not often you encounter someone who actually savours that impermanence. Phil Kay is that rarest of beasts: a comedian whose eyes do not light up at the idea of a 69-date tour (the sort of commitment a standard-issue comedy career progression would probably demand of him now). 'Even if someone said it was the last 69 gigs I would ever have to do, I swear to God I couldn't do it.'

There's another thing about Kay which marks him out from the mass - his willingness to resist the lure of the metropolis. He is one of very few leading young British comics not signed up with either of the big London agencies, Avalon or Off the Curb. 'I've been the luckiest comedian I know,' he says, 'in the sense that I've been able to stay in Glasgow and still get enough of the best kind of work. If I was in London, I'd be doing five gigs a week and - being totally objective about it - I probably wouldn't stand out all that much.'

Phil Kay's speech runs on ahead and then doubles back with the gleeful exuberance of a dog being taken for a walk. As befits a philosophy graduate, he obviously thinks a lot about what he does - or more accurately, what he doesn't do. 'I'm very aware of what I'm not doing,' he insists, 'which is a really good, dependable act.'

Having now seen him on a not-so-great night too, I can vouch for this not being false modesty. 'I'm not totally in control,' Kay says cheerfully. 'I haven't got much that's solid. There aren't many classic jokes.' (The nearest Kay comes to a traditional Bob Monkhouse-type one-liner is a passing reference to an erotic vision of Marti Pellow - 'my first wet wet wet dream'.) 'When it's going well you can do the things that make people say, 'Hey wow, how do you dare do that?', but you can only do it because they were laughing in the first place.'

Being more than usually dependent on the goodwill of your audience has its downside. Kay is still licking his wounds from a recent appearance at Malcolm Hardee's less than indulgent Up the Creek club in south London. 'I never like to judge an audience,' he says warily. 'I don't blame them for not laughing at me, but I think because it was Saturday night and they'd paid 10 quid, they expected more gags. Everyone was booing and I just carried on for about 20 minutes thinking I would get through it, but I didn't'

The responsibility of people paying money to see him does not weigh too heavily on Kay's shoulders. 'I like to ignore that responsibility and do really well. Obviously it's not so good if - as I do regularly - you ignore that responsibility and do really badly.' Isn't it exhausting, trying to be spontaneous all the time? 'It's not tiring to be creative. It's not tiring to be excited. What's tiring for me is thinking, 'Oh God, I'll have to go through that certain bit that I have to say first', knowing that at any moment I might find that I just can't be bothered.'

In the interests of freshness (comedic, if not personal - this is a man who sometimes puts a bar of chocolate in his sock at the start of his act to see how melted it will be by the end), Kay has just cancelled a clutch of live dates to go to Chile and watch the solar eclipse from a mountain for BBC Radio Scotland. He'll be off travelling again, in a heroic quest for more new material, in the early months of next year. On the day I meet him, he has just decided not to do a voiceover for a Campbell's soup ad.

'I know it's a lot of money for not very much work,' he says, twinkly-eyed, his voice as ever speeding up as it gets to the meat of a sentence, 'but if I did one I'd end up doing another and then another . . .' It's strange that the more money people make, the more things they seem to end up doing just for the money.

'Exactly. It ought to be the other way round.'

Phil Kay: Colchester Arts Centre, 0206 577301, 6 Nov; Harlow Square, 0279 425594, 9 Nov; Norwich Arts Centre, 0603 660352, 10 Nov; Maidstone Hazlitt Theatre, 0622 758611, 13 Nov.

(Photograph omitted)

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