Nish Kumar: It’s In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves
Tyne Theatre, Newcastle 22 March 2019
It’s about two and a half years since I last saw Nish Kumar, in ARC Stockton, back in November 2016 (around 5 months after the referendum). That night he was, for want of better words, quirky and idiosyncratic. He was rapid-fire, for sure, but essentially warm, good-natured, and kind of ruminative. He was a funny, engaging watch.
The Nish Kumar who greets us tonight is a very different beast. By his own admission, the course of events in post-referendum Britain have had a profound effect on him, and us. This Nish is a very, very much angrier proposition. And this is no bad thing.
For technical reasons (the support act was stuck on a train, apparently), Nish did his own support slot, mostly talking to the audience and exchanging what you’d generally call a bit of light badinage (or “bantz”, if you’re a twat). But this just served to warm us up for the main events after the interval, with some opportunities for some later callbacks cultivated.
So, back to angry Nish. This new Kumar is a lot sharper, and much more focused. And, dear reader, let’s be honest here, there’s more than a hint of Howard Beale (1) about the delivery, albeit (even by his own admission) a bit…shriller (2). The principal targets are broadly what you might expect from a left-leaning comic who fronts the Mash Report: Brexit, Trump and race figure high in the evening’s proceedings, as you might expect. This part of the show includes a discussion about his first appearance on Question Time, and his qualms about accepting the gig in the first place. It’s worth it just for his thoughts on Piers Morgan and Dominic Raab (though at this point I can’t quite remember which one his mum’s “shank” remark was about); it’s safe to say neither Nish, not his mum, are fans of either.
But then he gets a bit more personal. He’s pleased to be here in Newcastle, because it holds a special place in his affections. As a Durham student (3), he watched a lor of comedy here, and even did his first stand-up spot in the Dog & Parrot, just around the corner from where we’re sitting. He talks about his excitement about going to see Ricky Gervais first stand-up tour at City Hall. But the tone changes, as he talks about Gervais’ latest Netflix special. Nish is less than impressed, especially concerning a section about transgender people. The disappointment and anger in his voice as he talks about how a perfomer he admired has become flabby, lazy and unfunny is palpable.
Then he turns to Louis CK, whom he credits for perhaps making him the performer he has tried to be. It’s painful, but he ploughs on as he questions how many of the comedians he grew up respecting have turned out to be very different in their private behaviour from the personas they adopt on stage.
By the time he gets here, he is aware that all of this sounds very downbeat, so he says he wants to change the mood just a little, and leave us with something a little more positive to take away from the night. He turns to Monty, a Sikh guy in the audience, here with his wife, and shares a moment of weary recognition as he recounts a story of being “randomly” searched on a flight back into the UK (again), and discusses what it’s like daring to have a brown skin in an airport queue: the grinding, attritional frustration at being treated like a second class citizen in your own home: it is now somehow “the new normal”, and it really shouldn’t be. This, I think, is where he wants to turn the name of this show on its head. Perhaps it is in our nature to destroy ourselves, but it shouldn’t stop us trying not to. And that I think is the broad message he wants to leave us with tonight: please, please try.
As we’re leaving, I take my phone out of my pocket to read the alerts I’ve felt arrive in my pocket as I’ve watched the show. Robert Mueller has just delivered his report to the US Attorney General.
So, what’s to take away? First, I think that Nish has truly found his voice, and boy, is it angry (often with very good reason). Second, he’s (still) very, very funny. Third, he’s definitely worth making the effort to watch live. Fourth, I want to meet his mum, she sounds amazing.
(1) If you don’t know who Howard Beale is, then check it out.
(2) Ed Gamble’s University nickname for him, that refers to this, is a peach…
(3) Grey Boy. No-one’s perfect :)