Review: Nish Kumar — Control
Tyne Theatre, 5 May 2022
Well, it’s been a mad old time. This was the week of the five gigs¹, and tonight is the last. It’s always nice to come to the Tyne Theatre. It’s a lovely auditorium, and the vibe is always relaxed and friendly. I had a brief but friendly chat in the bar before the show with a bloke and his son who originally came over because there were a couple of spare seats on the go at the table I was sitting at, and I was Billy No Mates nursing a pint of Theakston’s Best. But soon it’s showtime and off we wander to our respective seats to be entertained.
We begin with Tessa Coates, described by Nish (which Tessa happily tells us) as “the acceptable face of white privilege” or “a honky with a pony”. These are not unjustified epithets to be throwing around when she reveals that yes, she did have a pony, and yes she did do dressage with it². But along the way, she also covers the personaility differences between the apparently more confident Americans, and the British. She also talks about her encounter with the worlds most boring man, who happened to be a lawyer called Christian, and the girl when once met in a toilet who offered her ketamine, and used a tiny little spoon for the purpose, or as Tessa called it, the little Sylvanian Family ladle. She was good fun, and should have been supporting him when I wrote about his last Tyne Theatre outing. if it hadn’t been for the vagaries of the train system that dictated otherwise.
Tessa gets ready to push off, but introduces Nish for a short blast before the interval, and trust me, I really don’t use the world blast lightly here. He goes in hard because he clearly needs to get some shit out of the way really early. As you can guess, it’s pandemic related. He points out, almost in a tone of indignant disbelief, that even his mate’s drug dealer, who’d been WhatsApping clients at the start of the first lockdown, was taking more care COVID protection and social distancing for staff and customers than the actual fucking government. This is just an entry point inot talking about the wonderful world of incompetence, corruption, and ideology: the three pillars of Toryism.
For those of you from another planet who may have lived an essentially Nish-free existence, it’s fair to say he’s not much of a fan of Boris Johnson. An incompentent arsehole the porky haybale may be, but you can’t argue against the quality of what one can only call “Johnson’s jism”. He’s splashing it all over the Home Counties in a mist, jumping on any fairly sturdy looking blonde girl³. He’s terrifyingly fertile. In fact it can only a matter of time before he’s found “sack deep in Colin the Caterpillar” at a party, and 9 months later M&S are selling little Colins with blond wigs.
He then moves on to Matt Hancock. Initially it’s all about how he pretty much needed mind bleach (he wasn’t alone) after seeing the gusto with which he went about grabbing Gina Coladangelo’s arse, which did at least serve to distract momentarily from the corruption operating in the allocation of PPE contracts, and the fact she was appointed as a non-exec director at the Department of Health, which then just happened to give such a contract to a company run by her brother. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here, everything’s just fine.
Finally, there’s Rishi Sunak, who he says “looks like the kid every Asian parent says you should be like, even though you know he’s a cunt”, who was repsonsible for the frankly batshit idea that was Eat Out To Help Out. Seven minutes is all this blood-letting takes. It has to be said that the anger is blistering, palpable, and machine gun fast. It’s also very, very funny.
The second half of the show begins by musing about how the landscape around us culturally has changed over the last couple of years, punctuated by some appreciation of the venue, and a nice heckling interlude that revolves around Maritime Law and the fact that the Crown owns all the seabeds up to the 12 Mile Limit around the coast. All of this is seemingly new information to Nish, though. But it just goes to prove you get a better class of audience up her in the north. He also admits that he knows he’s in a bit of a safe space here; he knows exactly who his audience is: Guardian readers, or ex-Guardian readers who gave up the ghost because they just weren’t left wing enough. So perhaps he’s preaching to the converted.
Once that is put to bed he starts to talk about the other things that have changed for him, and how most of that revolves around one gig in 2019. Yes, that gig: the one with the bread roll. A lot was written about it at the time, most of it not true, and going viral in the national news was not the plan. It is very much in the list of his five worst gigs⁴, he tells us not entirely unsurprisingly. It demonstrated to him in a very personal way that the operation of the media here is too much like a Human Centipede of news for comfort, flowing from extreme mouthpieces (say hello, Nigel), through “respectable sources”, with very some specific ire reserved for the Daily Telegraph, to be successively shat out all the way down to the sometime cesspit of social media and below the line newspaper comments. The Telegraph is worse he says, because at least you know the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun are unhinged, and proud of it. The Telegraph tries to wrap itself in a cloak of respectability, even though for the last two years it’s promulgated some of the very worst anti-science conspiracy bullshit. It’s these so-called, and self-proclaimed respectable sources that are helping to make things worse.
As a result of the death threats he was getting, one of which he shares with us⁵, his girlfriend, and a good mate pretty much pushed him into therapy. At first he did not like it, and didn’t properly engage, but is now finding it more useful, as it turns out constantly reliving the thought that someone (possibly plural) wants to kill you, and have told you as much, isn’t psychologically that helpful overall. But even this is wrapped in a barb, as he talks about celebs heartily recommending therapy, rather smugly forgetting that it’s only really an option for the comfortably off. He acknowledges that he’s very fortunate to be in a position to take it, and that given the last two years especially, more people probably need access to such services.
The last section of the show is something that Nish tells us should probably make sure he’s not going to be doing the Royal Variety Show in any hurry. The starting point for this is his musing on the differences between patriotism and nationalism. Love of country is not in itself a bad thing, but elevating your own nation over any others leads to all sorts of unfortunate complications, including wanting to colonise them. Exceptionalism is not a generally heathy state of mind. One thing he says he thinks we can agree on though: part of the problem of nationhood is the obsession with national anthems, when it’s abundantly clear that all national anthems are a bit shit⁶. He demonstrates this by singing (let’s be truthful here, not hugely tuneful) subtextual versions of national anthems, including Americans singing about big (huge, ENORMOUS) flag, then finally us, singing about an old lady who’s probably going to die fairly soon, who has a very noncy second son⁷. At length. It’s probably fair to say he’s not much of a fan of Prince Andrew. His constant worry is that the Queen will die when he’s out on this on this tour, and he knows at some point we’ll get asked where we were when we found out. “Er, well …”. He’s not expecting a call from the Palace soon.
I’ve heard hints of some of the material when he’s been doing slots on The Bugle with Andy Zaltzman, but this show feels like a step up even from the last time I saw him. The March 2019 show came in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, but before the machinations of the election campign later that year. If anything, the clusterfuck has only become more clustered, and exponentially⁸ more fucky since then. As a result, tonight feels even more seething with rage. There’s just so much more to be angry about, but you still have to laugh for a while in the face of it all, because what would the alternative be? And who better than the Pied Piper of the Lefty Liberal Elite to lead the procession?
¹ For various reasons, including all the stars aligning, a lot of rescheduled gigs, and things I’d booked for all fell around this Bank Holiday week. First was last Friday’s excursion to Durham for Half Man Half Biscuit. Then on Sunday, an evening with Bob Fischer, talking about his book Wiffle Lever to Full at The Waiting Room in Eaglescliffe, with a bunch of other very lovely and sociable fellow nerds, accompanied by a very nice dinner of veggie korma kefte (which is always good in there). Anyone who regularly reads any of this dribble that I write will know that an evening in Bob’s company is always something I look forward to, so it was always going to be fun. After a respite on Monday, came the run of three days, of which Saucerful of Secrets was first, and this evening the last, punctuated by the erstwhile Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate at Trilians. I won’t review that gig, because although it was fabulous, his band were pretty amazing, and his voice is still a quite astounding instrument, he was performing two Queensryche albums in full. Rage For Order I only ever listened to about twice, way back in the 90s, and Empire (for which this was meant to be a 30th anniversary tour last year) I’ve not listened to properly for some time, so I don’t feel well-placed to talk too much about it in huge amounts of detail right now. I also managed to fit in the new Doctor Strange movie at the Odeon in Durham before grabbing my car to drive back into Newcastle for the evening. For many, many reasons it’s been a big week.
² To The Streets’ Dry Your Eyes, as she recalls with mock horror. The pony’s name was Puzzle.
³ You have to say, he definitely has a type, doesn’t he? And it’s not hugely imaginative. I suppose there’s a fairly selective market in enjoying having Sexdoll Worzel wheezing and heaving in the immediate vicinity, and he knows his marks.
⁴ One of which included being watched with not wholehearted approval (to put it mildly) by Victoria Wood in Edinburgh.
⁵ Including a discussion of why he’s probably the very antihiesis of a “good muslim”, seeing as he’s actually from a Hindu family, and basically not into any of that Abrahamic jazz.
⁶ Honestly, the French may have an argument against here. Songs about the blood of your enemies running the furrows is fairly fucking hardcore.
⁷ And, given the words, when the Queen dies, it will be probably the only time right-wing blowhards will be at all comfortable with pronoun switching.
⁸ No, it’s ok, I know exactly what exponential means, and I’m not misusing it.