It’s always rewarding when a well-known comic performs at the lovely old Royal Theatre and packs it out. At a pinch the Royal can take about 450 people which is the perfect number for a buzzing yet intimate experience. For Paul Chowdhry’s new touring show there were no seats available apart from the couple in the middle of Row B stalls who didn’t turn up, making us in C 8 & 9 look and feel remarkably vulnerable with our unhidden proximity to the stage. Fortunately Mr Chowdhry chose to pick on other, much funnier, people.
As I so frequently have to confess with comics who have come to prominence in the past few years, neither Mrs Chrisparkle nor I had seen him before – I think I may have had a ten second glimpse of him once on a TV show but not long enough to tell if he was funny or not. I had gathered, however, that race plays a significant part in his act, his previous show being “What’s Happening, White People”, and now his new show is called “PC’s World” – and there’s nothing PC about it.
Being a reasonably PC person myself – not priggishly I hope, I just don’t see the point of upsetting people if I can help it – I wondered if I might be offended by any of his material. But I wasn’t remotely – he’s far too funny for that. He’s an incredibly skilful and confident performer and his material is absolutely top notch. I’d estimate that half the evening is actually spent on his routines and the other half on getting to know the people in the first few rows. He’s a big tease – the kind of guy who will find your weak spot in unguarded conversation and then go for it mercilessly, just the way your mates do.
You might perceive that some of what Mr Chowdhry does and says might be considered racist. Alternatively, you might not. When it’s presented in such a funny and friendly way, it’s very difficult to identify. What’s racist and what’s not?This is the question posed in some way by almost everything that takes place in the show. He’s perfectly happy to pick on himself as much as anyone else; for example, pointing out how his new beard makes him look like someone trying to get to Syria. He dwells on stereotypes for sure, but stereotypes exist because to some extent they are true.
So when Mr Chowdhry starts talking to “Uncle” in the second row, who’s not showing a flicker of laughter, 18 year old “Afghan” in the front row who’s dressed in a camouflage jacket (you couldn’t make it up), gym bunny “Yadesh” (that may be his name, no one could quite understand) confessing he has a red Porsche at the age of 23 (“ah, a Guju!” exclaimed Mr Chowdhry), or the hordes of unseen lurkers in the balcony, collectively known as “Luton”, he takes our stereotype understanding of what these people might be like, embellishes it and creates a fantasy audience of comic characters, whom we all laugh at, just as much as we laugh at him. And that way, all our hands are dipped in the blood, so if you sense the comedy’s heading in a direction that you’re not entirely comfortable with, for whatever reason, well, you’re already guilty as for having joined in the fun earlier.
Much of this stereotype-enhancing comes from his use of accents, which Mr Chowdhry actually says he doesn’t always feel comfortable using. He does a range of Indian accents (or moods) that go from finger-pointing belligerent to kissy-kissy sweetness – and everything in between; plus, he does cockney thug. Most of his comedy can be personalised with at least one of these voices. Talking of which, I really loved his interpretation of the guy pedalling at the front of the new Indian space rocket, a perfect blend of creative wit and old-fashioned stereotype. Perhaps the most interesting aspect about him is that his humour is, generally speaking, really benign; he does tease but it’s never cruel, it’s creative and revelatory. For all its making fun of racial stereotypes, it unifies us rather than divides us and you end up feeling like part of one big international family, leaving with a multiculturally warm glow to bask in as you go home.
One of the stage lights, suspended from the top over the back of the stage, exploded last night, behind him during a chat with one of the audience, so he couldn’t see what had happened. Naturally, he assumed that “Luton” had sent in the snipers. It’s not often that the stage itself becomes a heckler! Naturally funny and positive, he has an excellent ability to juggle all the information already gleaned from the audience to use it back at them later on in the show, a relaxed style and an unexpected humility – I really enjoyed his act. Racist? No, more like the antidote to racism. There are a few more dates left at the end of this very long tour but most of them are sold out. We’ll certainly look out for him again next time round.
P.S. As Mrs Chrisparkle and I were walking home we were overtaken by this fiercely fast and flashy red Porsche ripping up the tarmac and screeching terrifyingly as traffic lights unexpectedly turned red. Can only have been Yads taking Uncle and the rest of the family home.