Nish Kumar was the star turn on Friday at a ‘Brexit and Comedy’ panel discussion in central London. The event was staged by ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’ which describes itself as ‘an independent organisation created to make the findings of academic research easily available.’ Essentially it’s a left-leaning think-tank which behaves like a bereavement circle for distraught Remainers. The host, Professor Anand Menon, asked the three panellists to suggest a joke for Boris.
‘I’d just write him a joke that wasn’t racist. A non-racist knock-knock joke,’ replied Kumar The comic Andy Zaltzman, also on the panel, started to improvise. ‘Knock-knock’.
Kumar: Who’s there?
Zaltzman: The immigration authorities.
Marina Hyde, a Guardian satirist, said the best joke about Boris was his current job. ‘London used to be his playground. A girl in every postcode. Now he has to sleep next to the same girl every night with two policemen outside his door.’
They agreed that Brexit had been excellent for business. ‘Mate, I’ve f**king coined it in,’ said Kumar. ‘It’s good to monetise the death of your children’s hopes and dreams’. Zaltzman said public interest in parliament had soared to the point where, ‘they’ve got Select Committees showing on big screens in Hyde Park.’
Prof. Menon quoted a survey by his group which suggested that Remainers are more intolerant than Leavers. ‘The losing side is more narked off,’ said Zaltzman. But in comedy shows he tries, ‘not to go for the easy joke [against Brexiteers], or the angry joke. Sneering is going to alienate people.’ Marina Hyde pointed to a clear distinction between left and right. ‘No one on the right will ever complain about a joke. It’s people on the left who write in and say “you’re validating austerity”, or whatever.’ She finds these letter-writers, ‘incredibly judgemental’.
Kumar, who makes astute comments when not discussing himself, offered this:
‘Brexit should be about dull stuff like trade-deals and tariffs but it’s ascended to the plane of religious fundamentalism – the soul of what we consider ourselves to be, invested with a fervour the subject can’t support.’
He was keen to talk about his notorious performance at the Lord’s Taverners, last December, when he was enthusiastically heckled by members of the crowd. A bread-roll was thrown at him.
‘People said I was “pelted” with rolls. I wasn’t pelted. It was one bread roll. Like if someone said, “it’s pelting with rain” and you went outside and got hit by one rain-drop …’
The cause of his poor reception was, of course, white intolerance.
‘This is what happens when an audience is descended from people who colonised my country.’
He also claimed to be the victim of right-wing racist conspiracies.
‘I’m a triple threat to them. Brown dude, left-wing, BBC.’
Citing Andrew Neil and Piers Morgan he said, ‘the abuse is co-ordinated by very high-profile right-wing commentators. These f**kers cannot take a joke.’ But he’s blind to a contradiction here. ‘The people who colonised my country’ refers to a country other than Britain. Yet he also made this complaint:
‘In the last five days I’ve basically been told to go back to where I came from … which is Wandsworth.’
So ‘my country’ is both Britain and somewhere else. The confusion may arise from his wish to be an insider and an outsider at once – a useful duality for a performer. The same double-think was evident when he discussed his role as the host of BBC2’s unfunny satire show, ‘The Mash Report’. Kumar called himself, ‘the conductor of a large-scale leftist circle-jerk’. At the same time he claimed the ability ‘to do material with people who don’t start on the same page as you.’ He was referring to the Tory-voting comic, Geoff Norcott, who regularly appears on the ‘Mash Report’.
Prof. Menon chipped in here. ‘It’s weird isn’t it? The BBC needs to have a right-wing comedian on the show or it’s not balanced?’ This was one of the oddest comments of the night. It’s not ‘weird’ to include a comic who isn’t aligned with the BBC’s prejudices. It’s an attempt to create balance. Kumar explained why he relies so heavily on a single Conservative performer.
‘Geoff Norcott is the one right-wing comic who can be trusted to be funny and not use the N-word.’ In other words, every stand-up – apart from Norcott – who disagrees with Kumar is a white supremacist. But producers at the BBC are supposed to keep a close eye on the UK’s comedy circuit which is replete with performers who reject the alt-left consensus. Evidently they haven’t been doing their job. Hence the feebleness of the ‘Mash Report’.
Prof. Menon asked if any of the panellists had contributed to political campaigns. Kumar: ‘I’ve been approached to write for Labour but I take a BBC wage and I don’t think I should be “shilling” for a political party.’ He had a secondary reason for spurning Labour. ‘It’s a shit gig, the money’s f**king rancid.’
Zaltzman told an intriguing story. A few years back he was standing in a queue in Sainsburys when he received a call from a source his phone didn’t recognise. The unknown caller, whom he had never met, turned out to be Krishnan Guru-Murthy who presents Channel 4 News. He invited Zaltzman to write jokes for David Miliband. So Guru-Murthy has been operating as a freelance talent-booker for Labour politicians: a strange revelation.