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Saturday, 7 September, 2002, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
'Cancer can be fun'
Comedian Andre Vincent talks about his kidney cancer
Comedian Andre Vincent talks about his kidney cancer

Cancer is a serious subject for the majority of people.

But not for stand-up comic Andre Vincent.

Despite having had a 7lb kidney tumour removed earlier this year, he spent August trying to convince audiences at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe that "cancer can be fun".

His show, "Andre Vincent is Unwell", combines observational humour and hospital props with a three-minute highlights video from his operation set to bluegrass music.


My humour stems wholly from what I discovered while I had cancer

Andre Vincent
Little is left to the imagination as Vincent reveals his physical and psychological inner workings.

"I suppose, when you're coming up to Edinburgh you're looking for a handle, so it's not just 'Why do women sleep with cardigans on, why do they do that?'" says the 38-year-old comedian, a veteran of the stand-up circuit and Edinburgh Fringe.

"I've never talked about myself in my act ever. Why would an audience care about some little chunky lad from south east London?

"But I think I had to talk about this because you're told that cancer is a taboo subject in comedy."

Not therapy

The reaction of friends to his illness, many of them fellow stand-up comedians, alerted him to the need to lighten up the subject.

"Other comedians, people you think should be fine about it, weren't," he says.

"I found it really quite amazing that some of them would burst into tears."

One person did, however, manage to make Vincent laugh: "As soon as he heard he said 'Oh that's terrible ... can you put me down for your DVDs'".

Andre Vincent: 'You're told that cancer is a taboo subject in comedy'
Andre Vincent: 'You're told that cancer is a taboo subject in comedy'
Others have suggested that exposing himself in this way is "just Vinny's way of coping".

But Vincent insists that his show is not merely a form of public therapy.

"I'm not using the show as some sort of therapeutic way forward," he says, "It's merely what's happening to me at the moment and I find it theatrical, entertaining."

His experiences are not inspirational for prospective NHS patients.

Night on a trolley

Vincent's initial symptom, passing blood in his urine, was diagnosed as an infection.

After surgery, he spent 24 hours or so in intensive care and he returned to the surgical ward to find staff had given his bed to another patient and bundled his belongings into black bin liners.

"They thought I had died in surgery," he says.

In the end he spent a night sleeping on a hospital trolley.

But he is not bitter about such deficiencies in the system and is sympathetic about the amount and type of work with which NHS staff are confronted.

"You can't moan at them because they're just so busy anyway," Vincent says, "and when you think of the things they have to do ... I thought the nurses and doctors were great."

The show has been seen by a wide range of people. Doctors and nurses who don't seem to want to escape the job even on a night off mixed with reluctantly curious people who watch and laugh through their fingers, and the more obviously voyeuristic.

Biopsy results

Only one or two have walked out, too squeamish to handle the graphic nature of the show. And only one woman, at a comedy club before the Fringe run, complained.

"She said she expected comedy but instead got 20 minutes about cancer," he explains.

"Someone close to her had died from cancer which is sad for her, but I'm not trying to get laughs at someone else's expense.

"My humour stems wholly from what I discovered while I had cancer."

Vincent performed at Edinburgh while awaiting biopsy results which will show whether or not he is free of cancer. For him laughter may prove to have been the best medicine.

See also:

23 Jun 01 | Health
20 Feb 02 | Health
17 Apr 01 | Health
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