Comedy: Surfing the comedy waves

His gift for ad-libbing has made stand-up Phil Kay the toast of Eddie Izzard, Bob Mortimer and his other comedy peers. Tonight, he is let loose for a benefit at the Hackney Empire

Phil Kay can control an audience like an accomplished hypnotist. At one memorable gig when the sound malfunctioned, he led a willing 120-strong crowd out of the venue to a nearby restaurant where they surprised the soundman in the middle of his dinner.

At another performance, he glided across the heads of the audience on a surf-board he had handy. And on yet another occasion, he chucked away his planned material and ran through an impromptu wedding ceremony when he discovered that there was a hen party in the front row.

It is just this sort of tomfoolery that causes Kay to be so highly-regarded by his comedy peers. Bob Mortimer calls him "an ugly man whom I understand on occasions dines on mud. That having been said, it is a rare occasion when he fails to be hysterically funny." Frank Skinner chimes in: "Phil Kay is so funny, I would go out to watch him do stand-up on a night when it was raining heavily." And Eddie Izzard is equally complimentary: "Phil Kay surfs the cutting edge of comedy - on a real surf-board."

Kay can scatter-gun one-liners as well as the next stand-up - "last night I dreamt I was in bed with Marti Pellow, my first ever Wet, Wet, Wet dream" - but he reckons he is only truly in his element when interacting with the audience. "The show doesn't exist till I'm there in front of people," he says. "You go with things they like, and they respect you. Someone coughs and you weave it in and they feel privileged. They're important; I exist for them. I don't think of reasons to hold back. People are there because they're into it, and so you just do things to make them more into it. That's why at the beginning of a show I do lots of `wahays' before I say anything. It's like being at a rock concert.

"A lot of comedy is disturbingly bad and unoriginal," he continues, "but the idea of someone talking to people is beautiful. I always imagine it goes back to cavemen saying to each other, `I found some fire over there'. I admire written comedy, but I'm not able to do it. All the things I'm doing are no different to talking to people."

Phil Kay is on a bill with Sean Hughes, Stephen Frost, Owen O'Neill and Bob Boyton at a benefit for the Lottery `Get the Ball Rolling' Campaign at Hackney Empire, E8 (0181-985 2424) tonight


He may have once have sung cute duets with a talking spider on Sean's Show, but Sean Hughes has recently gone all serious on us. Now he's discussing such weighty issues as the death of a close friend in his show, Alibis for Life, at the Almeida, London, N1 (0171-359 4404) 4-7 Feb.