What do you call a person who looks Jewish from the left, Arab from the right and Indian dead centre?
No, it’s not a Jim Davidson joke from 1984.
It’s semitic-looking Nish Kumar whose comedy material used to focus on the essence of his appearance.
Nish has never had the stomach to insult race or highlight perceived negative religious attributes. He’d rather ridicule all that is obvious and salient in an ‘I’m mocking myself so it’s okay’ sort of way.
Nowadays Nish has moved on from me me me to blah blah blah with a big dollop of politics thrown in for good measure.
His new show is abstractly called ‘Long Word..Long Word…Blah Blah Blah ..I’m So Clever?’
The British comedian, who grew up influenced by Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Stewart Lee – comedians whose acts rotate round self-deprecation – no longer focuses on who he is and where he’s from more, ‘what do I stand for’.
Nish explains: “Yeah, I did do the ‘I look Jewish from one side of my nose, Arab from the other and Indian from the front’.
“When you’re a comic you’re explaining yourself and you’re trying to introduce yourself, what you look like, where you’re from but now I’ve done all those things so it’s a wider reach I’m aiming at. The thread of my new show is, well, my mother called me a left wing comedian so it’s about where you are as a left wing person.
“Scottish left is more energised because of the rise of the SNP. The English left is more of a tricky situation as there’s currently a backlash against political correctness in comedy.
“At the beginning of my new show I discuss that, and I point out even comedians that we think of as conservative, aren’t so clear cut.
“It tends to be left wing and neutral. It’s difficult to do right wing comedy.
“We’re in a point of anxiety where people are worried we’re going too far and have got to the point where we’re undoing alternative comedy – comedy in the eighties from acts like French & Saunders, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmundson who were alternative.”
So alternative is dead, what about popularly mocking others, that’s still alive. Does Nish see Frankie Boyle jokes such as mocking Katie Price’s disabled child an easy target or in bad taste?
Nish says: “I’ve never really had the constitution to be an insult comedian. It’s not really my skillset.
“Frankie Boyle is very good at it. I wouldn’t sign a petition to ban a comedian like Dapper Laughs – he had an ITV2 show and last year people signed for it to be banned as it was deemed extremely sexist – as I don’t believe in censorship but I find that sort of thing reprehensible.”
Like his peers such as Daniel Kitson and Josie Long, Nish gets the same buzz from stand-up, thankfully just in a different form from the insultmongers.
He says: “I still enjoy the process of performing. I enjoy working on something and it’s immediacy in the response from the audience.
“When I started doing stand-up Daniel Kitson and Josie Long were around. Josie was amazing and was a real influence on me.
“She was nominated for the Perrier Award in 2006 and I thought, ‘I’ve never seen anything like her’.
“She seemed to be doing something no one else had done. She’s more of a political comedian and activist now.
“The big show I watched when I was growing up was The Simpsons. I was a massive fan and then Third Rock From The Sun came along and I was massively influenced by Tina Rey.
Having studied at the University of Durham in 2004, the raw young comic met Tom Neenan and they soon became a double act.
The two last performed togeth- er in 2012 at the Fringe, after which Nish went solo.
Nish enthuses: “At university I was in a sketch comedy society, ‘The Durham Review’.
“I was studying English and History and I really loved comedy and thought I’d like to try it but I couldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have had the guts without the Society.
“That’s when I started and met Tom. Tom’s still one of my best friends and we still do stuff and have a couple of things we’re working on now.
“He’s doing solo work at the Fringe too.”
Nish has performed far and wide, touring his new material always interested to see reactions from different audiences.
He reveals: “Last year the Melbourne Comedy Festival sent comedians to tour in India.
“The road show tours the entire year and it was experimenting and pushing it out to Asia. A lot of my material is about my specific experience so I barely needed to change it for an Indian audience.”
The Indian audience may find Nish’s cousin more instantly recognisable for his comedy and acting ability as comedy appears to run in the family stretching all the way to India.
Nish explains: “When I went into comedy no one in my family was in the entertainment industry and they were absolutely baffled by why I was doing this.
“Say you want to be an accountant you train but say you want to be a comedian they question ‘are you funny?’ They question the basic principal of what comedy is.
“In India I’ve got an older cousin who does movie acting and comedy on the side.
“He takes comedic roles in Bollywood movies and he’s also a successful marketing executive. He started around the same time as me and we compare basic notes.”
But it’s not just his cousin who’s an all rounder. Nish has appeared on Virtually Famous, Russell Howard’s Stand Up Central, Sweat the Small Stuff and hosts Newsjack on BBC 4 Radio Extra.
At the moment he’s focusing on another couple of series of the topical news programme and ‘a bit of this and that, yeah I’ll be on panel shows’.
Though he’s great on radio it’s the stand-up with his friendly multi-cultural features that make it easy for audiences to warm to him instantly.
He’s the perfect example of how great life could be if we embraced our Indian, Arab and Jewishness – there’s an Indian, an Arab and a Jewish man…and they all got on fine. Now where would the comedy be in that?