Nish Kumar: Your Power, Your Control

Vehemently ranting against the evils and chaos of the Tory government, Nish Kumar could be the angriest man in comedy. But his fury is as nothing compared to that of his ideological opponents.

The comic has been vilified by those on n the right for being the epitome of all they think is wrong with Britain: a gobby, woke, educated liberal taking BBC money and airtime in his Mash Report days to sneer at all they hold dear. That he’s a British Asian almost certainly magnifies the opprobrium from some quarters even if the ‘I’m not racist but…’ brigade would vociferously deny any such motive.

These tensions came to a head when he accepted the ill-advised job of performing for the ultra-conservative Lord’s Taverners charity lunch in 2019, when his anti-Brexit material bombed so hard, he was pelted with a bread roll… and made the news because of it.

The retelling of this incident – as well as its context and its consequences – is the cornerstone of Your Power, Your Control. It is still a moment still so intrinsically linked to Kumar that one  punter at this Soho Theatre preview show brought along his own roll to lob at the stage. A presumably well-meaning prank, it gave Kumar the opportunity to react incredulously at the insensitivity of the gesture.

Quite why it was such a poorly-judged idea becomes obvious as Kumar tells the story of how his bad gig triggered not just unflattering headlines, but some hardcore racist abuse and, ultimately, post-traumatic stress disorder. And, yes, he is well aware that might make him seem a relative snowflake compared to those who suffer PTSD from being in a war zone – for Kumar is always acutely wise to how he is perceived. Yet the irony is that for a man who often preached ‘we need to talk about mental health’, Kumar was reluctant to seek help himself.

On stage in front of a like-minded audience, Kumar is less confrontational and more playful than his TV image. He may kick off this tour with a timely diatribe about the moral vacuum in Downing Street – while urging everyone to be outraged at those in power, not fellow citizens – but this blazing routine is just a preamble for the Lord’s Taverners story.

Not that it’s a ‘poor me’ narrative; Kumar impressively uses the story of his run-in to illustrate greater points about the state of the world, all with an edge of mischief. Besides, he commands an audience to the point of arrogance – tongue-in-cheek, of course – as he compares himself to ahead-of-their time geniuses, or berates us for not recognising his brilliance.

It’s all fuelled by a righteous anger, but not one so strong it overwhelms the need to be silly or self-mocking sometimes (even, sometimes a little cheap, truth be told). Nevertheless, the strongest set pieces turn the focus of his sharp, sarcastic ridicule on to topics that deserve it, and never more strongly when race, nationalism or reactionary politics is a factor.