Poster boy comedian was festival’s ‘most reviewed’
THE Edinburgh Festival may be over and done with for another year, but now the post-match
THE Edinburgh Festival may be over and done with for another year, but now the post-match stats are in — and Nish Kumar has been awarded the coveted title of “most-reviewed comedian”.
This finding emerged from a recent analysis of media coverage of the fringe by comedy website Chortle — and followed on from Kumar being nominated for best comic at this year’s Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Awards.
The good news for comedy fans is that Kumar’s success at Edinburgh has prompted him to embark on his first UK stand-up tour.
The comic, who is perhaps best know for his The Now Show on BBC Radio 4, will be performing the self-mockingly titled Long Word... Long Word... Blah Blah Blah... I’m So Clever show that he premiered at the Pleasance Courtyard this summer.
The show is now coming to MacDevitts Studio at Reading’s South Street Arts Centre on Thursday, November 19, followed by Norden Farm Studio in Maidenhead on Saturday, November 28.
So what to make of Kumar, whose 2014 show was titled Ruminations on the Nature of Subjectivity? He certainly seems content to position himself at the more cerebral end of the comedy market.
“I’m happy with that,” he says. “I think people are always more up for that sort of thing than they’re given credit for a lot of the time.
“And also the title was sort of a joke with the poster because they had a really stupid publicity photo taken of me with my fingers up my nose — and so we made it look like a National Theatre poster.
“It had a really serious-sounding title and a really stupid photo. This year I’ve gone the other way around — I’ve done serious photo, stupid title.”
Asked how he would describe his new show, he is initially hesitant.
“Well, it’s a stand-up comedy show and it’s sort of about â?¦ it’s a bit about politics and it’s exploring the idea — my mother described me as a left-wing comedian, and she did not mean it as a compliment — and so it’s a little bit exploring that idea about why that might be a bad thing and what it means to be a left-wing comedian in 2015.”
Not that he rejects his mother’s characterisation of him, exactly.
“I think it’s very hard to refute that in some ways,” he says. “I mean, I would say it’s more complicated than that but, you know, there’s a baseline on which it is correct. And so, you know — it’s just me sort of exploring that idea about what that means.
“Just because I think that we all are capable of enjoying a culture that doesn’t directly reflect our political beliefs — so if it’s sort of a big deal that I’m talking about being left-wing, does that mean it’s stopping people from enjoying what I do? And also, why is it that people perceive comedy to be left-wing?
“So that’s the sort of line running through the show...”
It turns out the media weren’t wrong to pay Kumar close attention at Edinburgh. Earlier this year Long Word... won best international show at the New Zealand Comedy Festival.
“It was the first [award] I’ve won,” he says. “I’ve been nominated for a couple of them and this was the first one I’ve won.
“It was great. The festival was good fun. It’s always great to go to a completely different part of the world and see how the sort of shared cultural vocabulary, you know?”
Some comedians venturing abroad might worry that the audiences wouldn’t get all the references.
“But actually, people get more than they think,” he says. “And also, I’m of a generation that grew up watching The Simpsons and one of the things that sort of teaches you is that even if there’s a bit you don’t understand it doesn’t ruin your enjoyment of the whole thing.
“The Simpsons would often do stuff about American sports players or obscure American political figures and, you know, as long as it goes by quickly and you’re on to the next thing that people do understand.”
Now on DVD, Ruminations sounds like the title of a philosophy seminar. But it turns out Kumar read English and history at Durham University.
“Well, the show was about opinion, really,” he says. “And it was about how the internet is sort of damaging the way that we express opinion.
“Being a comedian, you’re constantly exposed to the power of subjectivity because people either laugh or they don’t laugh â?¦ and you might be someone’s favourite comedian but you might be someone else’s absolute least favourite comedian.
“And so I’ve sort of thought about that as a starting point, because I think it’s very important that people are able to articulate their opinion — it’s not just enough to say ‘I think this’ and then leave it at that. And so it’s a show really about how important it is to be able to know yourself why you think the things that you think.
“I think partly there’s a problem with discourse on the internet, where it’s encouraging people more and more to have an opinion — and then not substantiate it in any way. Which I think is not great — I don’t think it’s good for society as a whole. I think we’d benefit from people learning to explain more why they think the things that they think, rather than this collective dumbing down.”
To that end, some people have suggested that every school should have a debating society.
“Yeah, definitely,” he says. “I went to school in Orpington in Kent and [the debating society] was probably the sort of thing that encouraged me to go into comedy because, you know, it is good fun — standing up in front of people and chatting s***!”
• Tickets for the South Street Arts Centre show are £11.20 and can be booked by calling 0118 960 6060 or by visiting www.readingarts.com