Interview: Nish Kumar returns to 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe to build on success
Tackling identity, offensiveness and vomiting near trains
This article is from 2013.
Nish Kumar is back at the Fringe after a gloriously successful 2012. He tells Brian Donaldson that his new show tackles identity, offensiveness and vomiting near trains
‘Once you’ve heard your mother laugh at the phrase “an erection tinged with nostalgia”, all bets are off.’ Nish Kumar’s 2012 Fringe show was a frank, personal and clearly deeply awkward analysis of family (his story of an evening at the cinema with his dad to see the sexually explicit Shame was a particular highlight), identity (‘I have an ethnically ambiguous face’), and his undying obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And it was hilarious with it: quite how he didn’t end up on one of the main award shortlists is baffling, but that’s probably a story for another day.
The family discomfort didn’t end with his parents coming to see the show in August, however. ‘Once the shock was over, they brought my aunt and uncle to see it at [London’s] Soho Theatre and my aunt thought it was racy: I’m the Jilly Cooper of Edinburgh.’ And happily, the father-and-son trips to the movies are still an ongoing feature of their relationship. ‘We go to the cinema about once a month and after Shame, the next one he suggested was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I think he thought would be perfectly fine. Turns out it’s a load of old people banging, so if anything it’s worse. But we’ve now fully recovered.’
So, with all that anxiety settling down, he has been able to focus on his 2013 solo show, Nish Kumar is a Comedian, which touches once more on identity, triggered by his publicity picture from last year which did the rounds as an internet meme under the title of The Confused Muslim (confused: maybe; Muslim: no). ‘So after a year where I mentioned I had a face that people struggled to place globally, I’ve now been mistaken for a whole other religion. That’s a jumping-off point for me to talk about lots of other stuff as well as identity. I’m interested in offence and why people take offence in certain ways about certain things. But let me be clear right now: there’s also a long discussion about wiping your arse and vomiting on train platforms.’
Kumar has been in and around the Fringe for several years, predominantly as one half of sketch duo the Gentlemen of Leisure, but he admits that 2012 was a breakthrough year for him. ‘Am I a Fringe veteran?’ he says, laughing at the very notion. ‘I feel like a veteran underdog. Last year was definitely my most successful year, but I love the social aspect of it where all the comics are all together in one place: the first day of Edinburgh is like the first day back at school − there’s that same kind of excitement. But I like the process of putting a show together and the impact that Edinburgh has on me as a performer. I’m speaking hypothetically here, but I imagine it’s like when you’ve been doing exercise for a long time and you just feel better the more you do it. August is the time when I can feel myself getting stronger as a comedian. I’m at the height of my powers come September. When there are no gigs.’
Nish Kumar is a Comedian, Underbelly, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 3–25 Aug, 8.10pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £6.