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I TALK TO Nish Kumar

Nish Kumar might appear to be an overnight success thanks to The Mash Report, but the reality is that he has been grafting on the circuit for many years. This week he returns to BBC Two to host The Big Asian Stand Up as part of The Big British Asian Summer season across the BBC.

The Big Asian Stand Up showcases a new wave of Asian comedic talent from the UK and beyond and sees Nish Kumar introduce a mix of hilarious stand-ups who share an exciting and diverse voice.

The five exciting comedy faces joining Nish on the first show are Tez Ilyas, Eshaan Akbar, Isma Almas, Emily Lloyd-Saini and Anuvab Pal. Then for the second show he'll be joined by Sunil Patel, Mawaan Rizwan, Sukh Ojla, Mark Silcox and Ahir Shah.

How did you first get into comedy?

I was a student when I first started. I joined a sketch group at university and someone thought we should go to Edinburgh, so we did. And then I started doing stand-up off the back of that whilst I was still at uni.

Did you find any resistance from he comedy world when you first started out?

Oh God yeah! I had half a decade of resistance. But the resistance towards me was for no other reason other than I was shit.

You can't really predict how long it's going to take someone to get themselves together to do effective stand up. Some people find their way very quickly and others like me find their way through it, flounder a bit and then eventually become good at the end.

Did the level of attention and conversation around The Mash Report take you by surprise?

Yeah. Listen, we were all slightly surprised by The Mash Report at every single junction because we definitely didn't think it would get on TV. We didn't think it would get made!

One of the things I love about the show is that a lot of the people I work with on the show are old friends of mine and people that I started out with.

Rachel Parris and I started at a similar time, Ellie Taylor and I started at a similar time so these are all people that I've admired for a good long while.

Because I was the host, I kept waiting for an adult who knew what they were doing to turn up... but nobody ever did! So we just assumed that would only exist in our own little corner on BBC Two.

To be honest with you, we were so delighted for the show to be on that we had no ambitions for it other than for it to be on television.

But it was really from episode five onwards, after a break, that the series really started to capture the public's attention...

As much as I'd like to pretend that that was all haphazard, that was all very deliberate from our bosses at BBC Two. They really wanted those four programmes to happen in the summer and the idea was for them to go under the radar.

People complain all the time about how difficult it is to work in TV so I'm obliged to at least provide some kind of counter-narrative for that. Our bosses at BBC Two were very supportive and they encouraged us to treat those four shows as essentially four pilots and be free to get things wrong.

Then we had this break, which was always planned and was a chance to look at what worked and didn't work. This allowed us to hit the ground running in January when people were watching. These shows hadn't always succeeded in the UK before because we hadn't commissioners who had the guts to commission telly like this.

It's often said that now is a great time for satire thanks to our currently political landscape. Would you agree or disagree with that?

I mean sure, it's a weird time because as a comedian you struggle to add value to some of the things that political figures are doing. It's almost easier to write a joke about somebody who is a capable adult than it is to write jokes about fools. They're already cartoons!

Part of the reason that Spitting Image was so popular in the late 1980s was because these were dry serious people who would then be turned into grotesque puppets. Boris Johnson is already a Spitting Image puppet.

Next time we see you on TV you'll be hosting The Big Asian Standup. What was that like to film and had you performed at City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds before?

Indeed I have. It's an unbelievable venue. It's such a good room. These two shows are a really interesting insight into where British Asian comedy is at right now because there are a couple of acts who actually couldn't make it who are also really exciting, like Sindhu Vee.

We ended up with a real mixed bag of people who I'd known for a long time like Ahir (Shah) and Tez (Ilyas) as well as much newer acts like Emily Lloyd Saini which was really nice.

Everybody was just really funny and also all had such different styles. It's really heartening to see the variety in the British Asian stand up scene right now.

There does appear to be a real rise at the moment in British Asian comedians. Why do you think that might be?

Ahir Shah and I tried to run the numbers on this and we all reckon that there was a lot of us who were youngish teenagers when Goodness Gracious Me aired and I think we are now seeing the legacy of that show bear itself out.

There are a lot of us who were young enough to have seen that show and made the connection that this is something we could do with our lives. That's our current working theory. It's the big bang of Asian comedy.

Do you think comedy is a great art form to discuss issues such as race and religion?

Stand up is completely unfiltered medium of self-expression. Whatever you want to talk about, whatever's important to you, you can do that and no one can stop you.

So it does become a really great form for people to talk about their upbringings and share their story in a sense. It can be a really powerful tool.

People think that Asian comedy and female comedy and black comedy are genres of comedy, but actually that doesn't say anything about their style or their content. So when you put together a night like this, you get real variety of comedy styles and that's exciting and fun.

Are you pleased to see a show like The Big Asian Stand Up on BBC Two as opposed to the usual BBC Asian Network?

Yeah, I'm really excited that BBC Two have got behind it and that as part of their 'Big British Asian Summer', one of the things they've included is a comedy night because with this type of season you want to give the breadth of Asian experience.

I've been lucky enough to see a couple of the shows that are coming out and there are some really hard-hitting documentaries so it's also really nice to celebrate the more frivolous and joyous side of British Asian life.

You're also about to head out on tour. What can people expect?

It is what people would expect from me. I would love to say that this is a show about cheese and hats, but I just can't go on stage and not talk about Brexit, Trump and the collapse of Western civilisation! I'm really boring all my mates about it, it's all I talk about.

Are you finding it difficult to write material that remains topical for the duration of a tour?

It's about drawing out the themes behind what's going on. Also, it's stand up so you can stay loose and be flexible and accommodate things that are happening right now.

That's the advantage of doing stand up. I think it would be really difficult to write a satirical sitcom right now.

The Big Asian Stand Up airs Friday 17th and Friday 24th August at 10pm on BBC Two

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