Edinburgh Fringe Review: Nish Kumar

nish kumar



Nish Kumar is the kind of genial, warm, chatty comedian that makes you feel immediately relaxed. He is a safe pair of hands in the best of senses. Intelligent and amiable and never offensive. Although this year's show, Nish Kumar Is A Comedian, his second solo show, certainly touches on the subject of offence, asking why we find some things offensive and not others.

The British-Indian who grew up in Croydon was prompted to explore this theme when he discovered that his poster image from Edinburgh 2012 had become a viral meme under the headline "Confused Muslim". Not quite as bad as having your identity stolen and your bank account cleaned out, but a kind of identity theft in another, more insidious way.

Admittedly Kumar had a quizzical look on his face in the poster, but he wasn't confused and, more importantly, he is not and has never been a Muslim. In an echo of an old David Baddiel story about being being beaten up twice, once by anti-semites and once by anti-Asians, Kumar points out that he also gets mistaken for being Jewish: "If they put me on the Gaza Strip both sides would kill me."

Someone somewhere had made an assumption about Kumar because of the colour of his skin and as he goes on to explain with great comic skill, this is not the only time it has happened. Even acquaintances who would never be considered racist have said inappropriate things. In one brilliantly executed anecdote he recalls being mistaken for writer Sarfraz Manzoor at the Hay Festival shortly after Manzoor had just appeared onstage. In fairness though, he does look a bit like Sarfraz Manzoor.

Kumar gives his stories a nice self-deprecating edge. He also paints a colourful picture of his London-Asian family and in particular his brother, who, through a series of unfortunate coincidences, found himself banned from the Daily Mail's comments section. There is an engaging lightness of touch here even he is discussing the casual racism that still exists in multicultural Britain – the teacher, for instance, who couldn't pronounce the name Jyoti, so ended up calling Kumar's friend "Chutney".

Alongside his theme however, there are also more generic stories about London life. Kumar tells a tale of seeing someone vomiting on an underground train with particular relish. There are plenty of laughs and his verbal gags are given extra punch by sporadic visuals grabbed from the web. Although as Kumar astutely points out,  it doesn't seem to matter how hard you work, you could probably make an audience laugh just by showing them quirky pictures of cats. But he has worked hard on this show and a nicely crafted conclusion explains the reason for the title of his set. Maybe not quite headline-grabbing enough to win an award but a show that should win Kumar a lot more fans. 


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