“Stand-up comedy from a clever boy”. That’s what we can expect from Nish Kumar’s upcoming, abstractly-titled show ‘Long Word… Long Word… Blah Blah Blah… I’m So Clever’. As whimsically as this comment may have been intended at the very start of my interview with Kumar, it’s an accurate description of the man whose comedic roots stem from his time at Durham University.
YOU JUST THINK ABOUT STUPID THINGS AND SAY THEM- IT’S MENTAL!
It was whilst he was at Durham that he got his first taste of comedy when he joined sketch troupe Durham Revue. Through this, he had the opportunity to perform at Edinburgh and has never looked back – this year marking his tenth consecutive festival. Despite admitting that he didn’t plan to get a job in stand-up originally, he’s now conscious of how lucky he is to be able to perform his hobby as a career. “It’s such a stupid job to do, and be paid to do – you think about stupid things and say them – it’s mental!”
Ten years on, he’s off on his first UK-wide tour, having previously restricted himself to stints at the Edinburgh Festival and London’s Soho Theatre. Kumar received critical acclaim during his time at the Fringe this summer, which culminated in a nomination for the Edinburgh Comedy Award. Focusing on politics, political correctness and the future of the left, this tour follows last year’s show which dealt with race, amongst other topics. Kumar isn’t one to shy away from gritty matters – “I like doing comedy about stuff that I’m interested in for reasons other than just writing comedy material.” But whilst he has some intent to discuss serious issues, he remains “definitely joke driven”, with the desire to deliver a well-informed yet fervent mockery of Britain’s social state.
Kumar identifies himself on the left of the political spectrum, at a time when comedy is similarly regarded to be a left-wing pursuit- a notion he examines humorously in his show. Regardless of the politics you subscribe to, you can certainly still engage with Kumar’s inimitable wit. Kumar remarks: “A number of people would come up to me after the show and say “you know I’m a Conservative voter?”, and I’d think I was about to get punched in the face, but they’d enjoy the show!”
Since he first wrote his tour, we’ve witnessed the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, something Kumar is pleased to see. “It’s given the whole thing a bit more of an optimistic tone. It’s not necessarily an endorsement of Corbyn, but an endorsement of what he represents – as in the prominence of leftist ideas in the political landscape of this country, which really hasn’t been the case for most of my adult life. I really believe that it’s important to have balance and genuine debate in politics rather than a jostle for the middle ground – which I feel has been the tone of politics for the last 20-25 years”, he enthuses.
Coincidentally, on the very day of our interview, Kumar’s debut appearance on long-running panel show Have I Got News For You was set to be aired, having been recorded a couple of days previous. “I’ve watched that show since I was a child so it was a very surreal experience to be on that set. They’ve got various monitors around showing what’s on all the cameras and when you see yourself on the set, it looks like you’re in a simulator or a green screen!”
Current affairs shows are something Kumar is not unfamiliar with. In February he was named as the new host of Radio 4 Extra’s satirical sketch show Newsjack and has gone on to present two series of the “hugely fun and rewarding” show. Working on such a programme can be hectic, necessitating all the news websites to be constantly monitored for breaking stories. He’s almost been caught out before: “last series, an hour before we start recording, the Clarkson thing [steak-punch-gate] happened. I remember frantically trying to re-work the opening monologue so we could put some reference into it, because if you don’t have that it looks horrendously out of date. We didn’t have time to type anything up so the monologue was just a hand written page that I’d scribbled down. It keeps you on your toes!”
He’s the best thing to come out of Durham since… well, anything really
Kumar’s radio career had begun before that as a regular on Josh Widdicombe’s Sunday morning XFM show alongside friends and fellow comics including Widdicombe, James Acaster and Ivo Graham. The group provided an audibly natural chemistry and Kumar looks back on the now “dearly departed” show with fondness. “I really miss doing that show, we had a huge amount of fun down the years. We all started [comedy] at a similar time and have come through together. It really felt like a family.” He delivered a weekly feature, ‘Nishipedia’, detailing all manner of ludicrous conspiracy theories. His favourite? “There was one about how the Chinese government is sending people over to drive slowly in England, and slow down the entire infrastructure of the country. I love that one so much because it’s so mundane and terrible!”
Coincidentally, those are two words Kumar can’t be accused of being himself, Kumar’s quick wit and perfect harmony of comic instinct and moral fury certainly makes his show one not to miss out on.