Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Stand-up’s take on fame game cuts to The Chase

AS one of the five formidable “Chasers” tasked with catching contestants on ITV1 teatime quiz

AS one of the five formidable “Chasers” tasked with catching contestants on ITV1 teatime quiz

The Chase
, Paul Sinha’s nicknames include “Sarcasm in a Suit”, “The Smiling Assassin” and most famously “The Sinnerman”.

He joined the show in 2011, having come to the attention of producers through his performances in the Quiz League of London — in which he still competes as a member of the Gray Monks.

Prior to that he had made his name as a stand-up comedian, having previously qualified and practised as a doctor, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

But even as a junior doctor he was starting to learn the craft of stand-up when time allowed.

After being nominated for the main comedy award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006 he hung up his stethoscope for good, making comedy his full-time career until

The Chase
came along.

Today he calculates that in an average year he works on the show one in nine days, leaving him with plenty of time to tour the country as a stand-up.

He has twice been nominated for the Best Club Comedian award by online comedy magazine Chortle — winning in 2014.

Last August saw him return to Edinburgh for the first time in four years with a new show,

Postcards from the Z List
, reflecting on his new life as a minor celebrity.

He is bringing the show to Reading’s South Street Arts Centre tonight (Friday) and Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead next Friday (January 29).

Given his TV success, does he have any plans to take on the likes of Michael McIntyre and Sarah Millican by recording a DVD?

“Do you know what? Not really. The reason being I’ve always felt that Edinburgh shows are of a time and a place. And watching them two or three years later is not really what I’d call ideal. I’m not trying to take this show into 2017.

“I’m just not one of those comedians that’s comfortable with documenting my material. I’m a big fan of the concept of live comedy, and that the best comedy should be live, and I always feel there’s something lost [with a recording].

“That said, of course, I’m sure I’m shallow enough to say that if there was any genuine money in selling a DVD I’d soon change my tune!”

Born in Luton to West Bengali parents who came to the UK from Calcutta in the late Sixties, Sinha describes himself as “a fiercely proud Brit” — something that inspired him to make his authorial debut last year.

“I’ve got a book out at the moment,

Paul Sinha’s Real British Citizenship Test
, which is about Britishness.

“It’s just a sort of pithy A to Z of what I think is the reality of what you need to know, practically speaking, to call yourself British.

“But obviously it’s just one man’s opinion and it’s really not meant to be taken seriously. I do feel that one of the downsides of being in the spotlight is that people take you much too seriously. My job is as a comedian and I don’t feel that anything I say particularly needs to be taken that seriously.”

Sure enough, the book takes a light-hearted look at such essential topics as how to negotiate a pub, the joys of chicken tikka masala (and other British non-British dishes), the finer points of football fandom, British cities that hate each other, whether anyone really cares about religion, and — of course — how to behave in a queue.

As a dissection of modern manners, Sinha’s stand-up isn’t so very far removed from the subject of his book, though as the title suggests

Postcards from the Z List
is informed by his experiences of joining the “sleb” world.

“Very much so. I’m a firm believer in talking about truth and telling stories that are true.

“If you tell stories that are true then if occasionally you tell a white lie or an exaggeration people still believe you because they’ve bought into the truth of what you’re doing.

“And the truth of the matter is that my life has changed in the last four years. I’ve gone from being a travelling stand-up comedian to being a travelling stand-up comedian slash television-competitive level of quizzer. And it’s an amusing look at the reality of what that involves.

“And also how it impinges on real life. I was single for 20 years and then got myself into my first serious relationship for 20 years. I’ll be talking about that as well. It’s not just about

The Chase
but it’s very much informed by

The Chase

Sinha’s first appearance on the quiz was broadcast in September 2011. How long did it take before he started to get recognised?

“The first time was about November 2011, and it was a middle-aged Asian businessman on a train. And it was a massive surprise — because you don’t expect businessmen to be watching ITV daytime telly at 5pm. But it turned out that he worked from home, and that’s why he recognised me.

“And then a couple of months later I went to a darts tournament at the O2 Arena and to my great surprise spent most of the evening posing for selfies and signing autographs. I’d only been on the show for about four months by then.

“But it’s very regional, this Z-list celebrity thing. I can go a whole week in London without getting spotted by anybody — for a combination of reasons, but mostly because people just don’t watch telly at 5pm in London. They just can’t get home in time to even catch it on ITV +1. Because in London it just takes so long to get from work to home and from home to work.

“In the north of England, especially in Liverpool and Manchester, it’s a very different thing and I can’t walk anywhere without getting recognised, because in general people work about 20 minutes from home and so

The Chase
is just a much bigger show.”

Does he get a fair few requests for selfies?

“Yeah, and do you know what, I’m always very, very pleased to do it — even if I’m in a hurry, it’s fine. But you’d be amazed at the proportion of people that have no idea how to work their smartphone camera. That’s the one thing I’d ask you to do on a selfie, is please know how to use your camera.”

As someone who came to fame in his forties, Sinha says he is realistic enough to know that celebrity has a shelf-life and that you should try and make the most of it while you’ve got it.

“When I go to the North-West of England I get a vague feeling of what it’s like to be a genuine celebrity, because I get recognised a lot more — I’m not sure I could deal with that every day of my life!” he laughs.

“You know, there’s a line of a Take That song,

Never Forget
, where Gary Barlow sings ‘Some day soon this will all be someone else’s dream.’ And it’s something I keep reminding myself — that some day this will all be someone else’s dream, so try and enjoy the ride while you have it.

“I think too often people forget to enjoy the ride. They’re so worried about what it all means that they forget that actually rollercoasters are quite good fun.”

Postcards from the Z List is an adults-only show suitable for 18 years and up.

Tickets for South Street are £16 (concessions £14). Call 0118 960 6060 or visit www.readingarts.com

Tickets for Maidenhead are £15 (concessions £13). Call 01628 788997 or visit www.norden.farm to book.

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