When you go to a Nish Kumar gig, you expect political commentary. But the former Mash Report host’s new show Your Power, Your Control comes at an awkward time. Do comedy audiences want to hear about the pandemic after, y’know, living it? Fortunately, Kumar’s topical material is among the best I’ve seen this side of Covid. Intense, weighty news items – from the Colston statue being chucked into the river to the numerous Conservative party failures – are honoured with humour. “Buzzkill on a group chat, great laugh on a panel show,” Kumar tells us, with a chuckle. “I contain multitudes.”
Kumar’s more explicitly political content bookends the show. New allegations about Boris Johnson having yet another party are made two hours before the comic hits the stage, and there’s a sense that Kumar would dwell on it more if it weren’t so utterly depressing. There are slower moments, where Kumar lists examples of political injustice, but it never stays flat for long. On stage, he fizzes with an unrelenting energy, and is prone to bursting into random screams. Really, who can blame him?
But where Your Power, Your Control breaks fresh ground is less about the news than Kumar as a newsworthy figure. The cancellation of The Mash Report and the BBC’s unwillingness to defend him is briefly described as “heartbreaking”, but the show fixates on one fateful gig back in 2019. For those who don’t remember, Kumar was pelted with bread for making jokes about Brexit at a charity cricket lunch days before the election. For what it’s worth, he tells us, their aim was pretty shoddy anyway.
On stage, the charity gig is split into two parts – the event and the aftermath. Kumar views it as a fulcrum in his life, ushering in obscene new levels of online abuse. When he discusses the death threats, Kumar delicately treads the line between entertaining the audience and showing the emotional toll of abuse. We hear the shocking content of one slur-filled message, yet Kumar also wonders aloud what will happen if he’s assassinated before fellow comedian Ed Gamble’s wedding.
Kumar’s willingness to talk about his mental health is admirable, but he’s adamant that he doesn’t have any regrets about the actual incident. He makes interesting, somewhat unexpected points about free speech – defending the cob-lobbers and criticising his comedy friends who simply branded them idiots. But if he’d criticise the Tories to his prime audience at the Soho Theatre tonight – a crowd he says consists of Guardian subscribers and people who recently cancelled their Guardian subscription because it was no longer “left wing enough” – it would have been hypocritical not to make them at the cricket club gig. And in the end, Nish Kumar having a bad gig made front page news. That has to count for something.
‘Nish Kumar: Your Power, Your Control’ is touring the UK – for more information, visit nishkumar.co.uk
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