Interview: Nish Kumar – Long Word . . . Long Word . . . Blah Blah Blah . . . I’m So Clever
‘Why am I stressed about something so fundamentally useless?’
This article is from 2015.
His mum might not understand why anyone would want to see her son do stand-up, but the rave reviews tell their own story. Nish Kumar tells us why he’s now dabbling in a little bit of politics.
Fronting a comedy-news programme on the radio sounds like a pretty good gig. For Nish Kumar, Newsjack’s hectic turnover of material allied to the inevitable frenzy of rewriting once stories are developing has resulted in an intriguing side effect. ‘It’s made me more relaxed about Edinburgh because I now know that, ultimately, everything gets done eventually. I’ve never especially thought of myself as being particularly ambitious or having high standards about their output, but I do just want the next show to be better than the last one. When you’re really stressing out, there comes a point where you think, “why am I expending so such mental energy on something so fundamentally useless?” Some people are stressed because they have to operate on people’s brain tumours. This is stress about an hour of comedy.’
But as we all know, comedy can be a very serious business. And it’s an avenue through which artists can get points across about extremely important stuff. There will be Fringe shows concerning all manner of tough subjects from global politics and social decay to deeply personal hours about death, cancer, amputation, adoption and irritable bowel syndrome (just the two shows on that touchy topic this August).
Until now, Kumar’s shows have flirted with political ideas, preferring to land more on the subject of identity (largely because of what he’s previously described as his ‘ethnically ambiguous face’). In case you’re worried that this all might sound a bit worthy, he has performed material about people vomiting near trains, his own Buffy obsession and going to see inappropriate movies with his dad.
But something has shifted in his attitudes. ‘I’ve always wanted to do more political stuff, but never quite been able to find the angle. In the last 18 months, a penny has dropped and I’m now able to bring politics into my stand-up and make it funny. And there’s a lot of material around, because this is certainly an interesting time. And by interesting, I mean potentially catastrophic.’
Kumar is wary of becoming one of those comics who indulges themselves in the self-congratulation being felt within a room full of liberals hearing liberal views being spouted by another liberal. ‘What are we really achieving by having our opinions simply reflected back at us?’ he asks. ‘It’s funny in of itself to do that and then question the value of what you’ve just done. So the show is about being a left-wing comedian, what that means and whether there’s any point in it at all.’
That show is Long Word … Long Word … Blah Blah Blah … I’m So Clever (‘last year I had a serious title with a stupid poster, so this year we’ve inverted that’) and should he live up to his 2014 hour (Ruminations on the Nature of Subjectivity no less), another stream of wildly positive reviews will follow in its wake. And maybe then, Nish Kumar will finally believe the hype. ‘There is that moment where you think, “this is my best show; but then I could be wrong”. So when people say that this is your best show, you think, “well, good, I’m not insane”. Last year the audiences were good. My mum can’t quite comprehend who these people must be that want to see me and I can’t really either. All I know is I’m glad that they’re there. I’m not sure I would come and see me. It’s not really my sort of thing.’
Nish Kumar: Long Word … Long Word … Blah Blah Blah … I’m So Clever, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 8–30 Aug, 7.15pm, £9–£12 (£8–£10.50). Previews 5–7 Aug, £6.