Updated: Saturday, 15th June 2019 @ 8:23am

'It's been an exciting year': Nish Kumar on 'arsehole' hecklers, nerves and next PM

'It's been an exciting year': Nish Kumar on 'arsehole' hecklers, nerves and next PM

| By Rosemary Collins

You’d expect stand-up comedian Nish Kumar to be nervous, but he thinks that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“You want to do a good job and that creates a sort of pressure on you,” he says.

“It’s bad if you don’t get nervous because you need that slight surge of adrenaline to really focus your mind.”

Making lemonade from the lemons of stage fright seems typical of Nish, who in person (well, on the phone) is incredibly laid-back, moderate and self-deprecating – although he does spare a moment of venom for (some) hecklers.

“The rule is invariably if they come up to you afterwards and apologise, they have said something genuinely funny and interesting and really enhanced everyone’s experience of the gig,” he explained.

“But if they come up to you afterwards and say ‘oh, I really helped you out there’, they are arseholes.”

He said that he’s far from a sad clown and got into stand-up not to escape any inner demons but because he ‘had no interest in getting a real job’, and describes his show, Long Word… Long Word… Blah Blah Blah… I’m So Clever, as ‘just an hour of me explaining my brain’.

What is in his brain?

“It’s sort of about politics and a bit about diversity and a bit about James Bond,” he revealed.

Ironically, Nish hasn’t even had time to see Spectre, because he’s been so busy touring the country as part of a meteoric rise in the past year.

He debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, where he was voted in the top ten best jokes of the festival list for the following gag: “My Mum’s so pessimistic that if there was an Olympics for pessimism, she wouldn’t fancy her chances.”

Since then, he’s appeared on Stewart Lee’s The Alternative Comedy Experience, Sweat the Small Stuff, The John Bishop Show and Russell Howard’s Stand Up Central.

He’s also warmed up for Dave’s One Night Stand in theatres such as the Hackney and Shepherd’s Bush Empire, hosted Radio 4 Extra’s Newsjack, written for Sky 1’s revival of The Kumars and acted in Fringe comic plays The Hotel and Wardens.

“It’s been an exciting year,” he says.

“You feel like you work towards it for a long time and it’s been a lot of fun.”

“I’ve watched things like Have I Got News For You since I was a kid, so to be on that set was really exciting.

“There’s lots of good comedians around right now, it’s a really interesting time to be doing stand up.”

He soon caught the comedy bug himself while studying English and History at Durham University, doing stand-up around town, joining a sketch group with his friends and having his first Edinburgh experience.

He recalled a humbling early experience while opening for The Inbetweeners’ cast members, when ‘within minutes’ of starting his set he was heckled ‘when are the famous people coming on?’

However, he’s risen far from such dispiriting beginnings in a comedy scene that was once see nas the preserve of the white male.

In 2012 Nish had the bizarre experience of seeing one of his promotional pictures turned into an internet meme called ‘Confused Muslim’.

Its creators didn’t appear to know that he is not in fact a Muslim, but Nish managed to turn the experience into stand-up.

He’s more well-know now, but does he still feel like an outsider on panel shows which are generally populated by white men?

“I do feel like these shows are changing,” he said.

“They are actively trying to embrace a wider pool of people coming on these shows.

“But the flipside is that every time you try and do that and every time you try and introduce diversity there is a group of people that react very poorly to that.

“They are fighting against a block of the public who sometimes get pretty angry about that kind of stuff.

“But I don’t feel like I’m treated any differently on any of these sets and I’m never made to feel like my presence there is tokenism, which is great.

“[Twitter trolling] comes with doing anything that escapes out from beyond the confines of the comedy fans and the liberal-minded people that come and see live shows and things at the Edinburgh Festival.

“As soon as you do something on TV or radio there is going to be a percentage of people that take against you and now those people have an avenue to get their feedback across to you.

“You’ve just got to be prepped for that.

“The only thing that bums me out is my Mum reads them and then gets very angry.

“I’m trying to explain to my mother that she needs to not actively search my name on Twitter on nights when I’m on TV.”

His parents – ‘normal people’, with his dad working selling textiles and his mother a housewife – were ‘initially apprehensive’ at his decision to pursue a career in stand-up, but his success has helped him to persuade them that it was the right move.

“They’ve come around to it now, they were just a bit baffled initially,” he said.

“Everyone in my family has proper jobs so it just seemed to be a bit of a shock."

His mother’s description of him as ‘a left-wing comedian’ forms the backdrop to his new show, and his views on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn definitely back up that billing.

“He’s done something interesting to British politics in that he’s given voice to some ideas which have been out of fashion for about 25 years,” he said.

“What’s interesting about his rise is that it shows the public is taking an interest in those ideas for the first time in a long time and I think that’s very exciting.

“He’s bringing a genuine diversity of thought to the British political conversation which for a long time has been a jostle over the centre ground and now he’s genuinely coming in and saying something a bit different.

“I think that he’s completely up against it because he’s incurring the wrath of some extremely wealthy and influential people and he’s definitely up against it in terms of the way that the press is reporting on him.

“You never know – a lot of people seem to be writing him off but then a huge number of people never thought he’d be leader of the Labour party, so yeah, he could be prime minister.”

However, Nish doesn’t intend on using his show – he’s in the middle of his first UK tour, which comes to the Lowry Studio in Salford on November 22 – as a political soapbox.

“I don’t see myself as somebody who’s changing minds,” he said.

“I don’t really seek to have a higher function other than to make people laugh.”

Image courtesy of BBC, via Youtube, with thanks