Comedy: No chuddies please, we're British
Tuesday 05 January 1999
QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL
ON SUNDAY at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Sanjeev Bhasker had no intention of pandering to any groupies with catchphrases from his hit BBC2 sketch show - goodness gracious me, no. The first words of his solo live act, The Spiceman Cometh, were: "Good evening, hello. Innit, cheque please, kiss my chuddies. Good, now we've got that out of the way."
In the ensuing two-and-a-half hours, he made not a single reference to the characters from Goodness Gracious Me. Fans of the show, he seemed to imply, could kiss my chuddies.
For all that, his strongest material mined the same rich seam as the television programme: the sometimes confusing experience of being British- Asian. As in Goodness Gracious Me, Bhasker was able to exploit his dual identity and make jokes both about Asians, and British perceptions of them.
He recalled the difficulties he had at a predominantly white school. "I really, really wanted to be white, because you had to put up with all those ridiculous questions: `Do you eat curry for breakfast? Why do you smell so funny?' In the end, I had to say, `Look, you're the teacher. You should know'."
School Nativity plays also posed a problem. "No matter what part I auditioned for, `I shall give you a rendition of my kindergarten version of Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger', it was always, `Yes, go and stand with Mohammed and Whangi. You're one of the Three Wise Men'."
Bhasker went on to recall how, when he was young, it was impossible to go to the cinema in a group of fewer than 25 people. "All children under five would then be wound up and made to run up and down the aisle for the entire duration of the film... and not one of them became a bloody athlete."
That's not to say that everything went smoothly for Bhasker. The show seemed over-long and, often reading from notes, he admitted that some of the material was "work in progress". On many of his songs - he was surrounded on stage by instruments - he showed great musicianship, but neglected to be funny. And was the Queen Elizabeth Hall really the best choice of venue for comedy? Great acoustics, shame about the formality.
Those quibbles aside, it was a pleasingly original evening of stand-up comedy. Technically, Bhasker's is a rather conservative form of observational "do you remember?" humour. But his comedy of shared experience has a freshness about it, because his particular experience has so rarely been shared before on the circuit.
How often have you seen a comedian sign off with a double-edged gag about Asian stereotypes? "I'd like to say a thank you to the members of my extended family who are here tonight - and to the other three people who got in."
As Bhasker never said: wicked, innit.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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