An Interview With Reactionary Comedian, Nish Kumar

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Why do we find so much left wing comedy in existence? Can comedians steer away from this world of political correctness and how can this cause a reaction? Enter Nish Kumar, fresh from a highly successful show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival as he begins work on his new show Long Word Long Word Blah Blah I’m So Clever. We caught up with Nish to discuss all things comedy, his origins and reasoning behind the success of his recent material.

And on that tongue-in-cheek tour name: according to Kumar, he came up with it as a response to those who ask ‘what do you do on stage?’ – and of course because it welcomes an element of fun. From his early days of hitting student spots such as The Library and The Original Oak, I felt a haunting sense of life coming full circle. Having gone to Durham University, Kumar’s personal attachment to Leeds made for pleasant news: I discovered that, while performing here next month (28th October in Wardrobe), Kumar will meet up with his mates from the city, among whom he counts the original line-up of the Leeds Tea Lights. Given the comedy group is still active in the area – and features a fresh line up each year – there’s a clear sense of the barrier between comedian and audience member breaking down, Kumar having crossed over from one to the other. So how do budding student comedians make the jump to the professional circuit?

Just do it as much as possible, says Kumar, before reeling off the list that every aspiring performer has embedded into their brain, positivity brimming from every word. Do everything you can, go to Edinburgh as a place to start, persevere. All these tips, as often may be heard, sounded genuine and inspiring coming from an active comedian within the industry, and clearly have some merit given Kumar’s recent success at the fringe – where his show drew in a pallet of four and five star reviews across the board. Wondering whether the rate of Nish’s success had altered his perception at all, I asked him if he had done anything in particular to please his critics – a suggestion that Kumar quickly shot down. Whilst Nish was delighted to see the warm reception of his recent work, he commented that such success just happens. As with many art forms, comedy can be subjective to each and every audience member who wishes to experience it. Nish reminded me about the form of comedy originating from personal stories and experiences and with that there is a reactive element for the critics to respond to on a personal level. It’s clear – perhaps simply from the title of Nish’s upcoming tour – that the element of fun present in his shows allows the audience to enjoy his material.

During the course of our interview, I became particularly interested with the structure and creation of a stand up show. Where does one start and how does a comedy show come together successfully? I was intrigued to discover that a comedy show starts off on a much smaller scale, with Nish testing material in previews with smaller audiences, allowing him to change and develop his material based upon the reaction of the audience.

When he’s not previewing materials for his own stand up show, Nish has a wide range of other activities, including a writing spot on the Sky show, The Kumars. He says it’s a different experience to writing for the stage, with a television episode expected to be completed within a week, compared to the months that he has to develop material for his own shows. The tight timeframe prevents Nish from experimenting and adapting the show to perfection – as he does with his shows – and instead there appears to be a greater risk with television, where he feels that it is more ‘hitting and hoping’. It’s fair to say with television that there is less freedom compared to comedy on the road, yet Nish seems to be creating an effective balance between his live and broadcasted work.

It’s clear to see that Nish had an admirable work ethic. When I asked what was next for Nish Kumar, he gleefully said “I’m going to sleep for a week”. From touring New Zealand, to performing at Edinburgh Fringe, to working on the radio and now embarking on a national tour, Nish sounds as though it‘s certainly needed. Mixing elements of fun and ideological questioning within his material appears to be a daring mix for his upcoming comedy show. But whether his warming critics will receive his new show as well as it was received in Edinburgh will be up to the next chapter of his comedy career. Embarking on a new tour across the country, you can catch Nish performing here in Leeds at The Wardrobe on Wednesday 28th October.

Mark McDougall

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