Eastern promise: London's Tom Allen Centre is bringing Asian comedy to a wider audience. Dolly Dhingra welcomes a new generation of stand-ups

When it comes to comedy, Asians are accustomed to having it handed to them on a plate, or rather, thali. Most of it comes as light relief in Hindi movies where the humour relies heavily on stock characters such as the village idiot, the bungling buffoon or the obese hopeful romantic. But the Tom Allen Centre, in London's East End, which hosted an Asian Performers Comedy Cabaret in May, the second this year, is at last leaving audiences with something to think about.

The evening started off with some fairly safe jokes from fresh-faced compere Mobashir Dar, based on the corniness of Indian names and parental quirks. The first act was Jag Plah, the self-mocking disabled comic, whose finest line was that he was done for kerb-crawling when police took his crutches away.

Things picked up, though, with The Secret Asians - an immensely talented duo specialising in mime, spoofs, music and dances. Sanjeev Bhaskar, who considers the Asian community 'depressed, repressed and oppressed', gave the audience much to be cheery about with his rendition of an Italian love song and impersonation of Elvis. Bhaskar's charisma (he was once mobbed after a performance, with female students throwing their dorm keys at him) is complemented by Nitian Sawhney - a gifted all- round musician. The couple 'challenge the audience to predict what they will do next', and don't cater exclusively for an ethnic audience.

Bhaskar believes most Indian films 'go for the lowest common denominator' and would only last 10 minutes 'if it wasn't for the songs and fights'.

The only female in the line- up was the multi-faceted Persian actress, Nina Wadia, who combines the classical Indian dance style Bharat Natayam with tap-dancing. She revealed that her refreshing frankness used to cause her mother a great degree of embarrassment, 'because I wasn't hiding behind a character, it was me saying what I wanted to'. Wadia has no qualms and tells it as it is: 'I don't make my material up, if it hasn't happened to me it's happened to my friends.'

Her material is aimed mainly at the second generation Asians in Britain. 'There's a lot of screwed-up Indians out there,' she says. 'I'm here to say to them that it's OK to laugh about the problems that we are encountering - if we don't we'll go insane.' It comes as no surprise that she admires Joan Rivers.

The closing act was the dapper Dead Jelebis, who made an impressive entrance with a funereal march, striking chime bells and reciting 'roots, culture and that sort of stuff - innit'. One of the Jelebis, Ravinder Gill, describes their act as a 'pastiche' and 'an attempt to consolidate the unique perspective that Asians have'. But what initially appeared to be, presumably, a parody of Asian rock groups rapidly turned into an ear-piercing thrash session. Confusion among the audience was finally confirmed as some members walked out. The evening established that Asians need not depend on Bollywood for all their entertainment. Creative comedy is finally emerging within the community and should be thoroughly encouraged.

The Secret Asians, Nina Wadia and The Dead Jelebis appear this Sunday, and other Asian acts perform on the first Sunday of every month, Watermans Arts Centre, 40 High St, Brentford, Middx (081-847 5651)

The Secret Asians tour in the autumn: details from the Tom Allen Centre (081-555 7289)

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us