Paul Chowdhry, the legendary sweet-talkin’ bastard, comes on stage and advises us that, if we’d seen him before here at the Royal and Deansgate (sic) in Live Innit (we had), or What’s Happening White People (we hadn’t – but he didn’t mention PC’s World, which we had), he’s now a completely different person from the one before. He has reinvented himself as a family-friendly comedian. And then he proceeds to lambast the front row with a series of what I presume are Hindi swear words and body-part slang terms. He was only teasing. He hasn’t changed.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself because the show started with his support act, Rory O’Hanlon. We knew we’d seen him recently but couldn’t quite place when – turns out it was in the back garden of the Black Prince three months ago. He’s a terrific comic, with a typical Dublin gift of the gab, and with some very funny material. Sadly – for us – 90% of his act was what we had heard in August, so we were left to admire his comedic skills rather than actually laugh out loud at the material, as we had done the first time. Presumably he was new to everyone else as he went down a storm in the audience. With a very serendipitous turn of events, he had been bad-mouthing how horrible Coventry is, when a group of rowdy chaps turned up late and made their way to the middle of the front row. Where have you come from, asked Mr O’H. Coventry, came the answer. Thus a major part of the groundwork was set for the whole evening.
After the interval, and the Coventry guys had got even more tanked up, Paul Chowdhry must have looked down on the rowdy Sikhs in the front row waving their lagers at him, and thought this is going to be a doddle. Time and again, during the course of the evening, he went back to them to take the mickey in the way that really only Mr C can. Ridiculing their speech, their behaviour, their protestations of sobriety, everything; it’s amazing how he can be so directly aggressive to individual audience members – and they love it. And so do the rest of the audience. If you go to see a Paul Chowdhry gig, so much of your time with this extraordinarily skilled and quick-witted comic will be spent with him trading the most dangerous banter with the audience, getting away with murder, spreading the comedy of offence far and wide, and, against all odds, it works so well.
Two things help here; one is Mr C’s superb mimicry skills, which allow him to populate his chat with a range of stereotype accents, from his posh Susan and Giles voices, and his Neanderthal Dave voice, to a full panoply of Asian imitations. His voices can be hectoring, whining, intimidating, offended, and so on; in other words, all the emotions, in all the races. The other is that he attracts such a wide variety of audience members from all races, all ages, and, particularly useful, all family groupings. Nothing can give him more scope than an extended Asian family of parents, aunties, uncles, kids, grannies and so on. As he pointed out, the lockdown rules where you could only meet six people at a time were specifically for white people. For Bengalis, six people constitutes the queue for the bathroom.
The show wasn’t just a sequence of audience interactions with no interconnecting theme other than insults; not quite, at any rate. As part of the show, Mr C dwelt on everyone’s lockdown and pandemic experiences, including how we now do our best to suppress a cough, which, in the good old days, would have been an open invitation for the most wallowed-in, phlegmatic and catarrh-filled airway clearing exercise – as he frequently and very audibly demonstrated. He does a brilliant take-down of those who take their vaccination advice from Nicki Minaj – probably worth your ticket price alone – and he fantasises about a Saudi Arabian version of TV’s Naked Attraction.
If you’re like us, you’d probably think, “I know that Paul Chowdhry is a master of the comedy of offence, and I’m going to appreciate it for what it is, and not get offended”. Wrong. Despite our best efforts, we were offended on at least two occasions, and, as Mr C also tells us, it’s as white people being offended on behalf of others – whilst those “others” are probably not in the least offended. If it’s good to be challenged in the theatre, I can’t see why it shouldn’t be good to be challenged by comedy too.
As when we saw Live Innit, I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed it more than Mrs Chrisparkle. Whilst still laughing lots, she finds Mr C’s repetitive and aggressive style a little overwhelming – or her killer description, relentless – whereas I either don’t notice it, don’t mind it, or just find it funny. It’s a boy thing, innit. His tour is nearing its end, with a few more dates until Nottingham on 16th December. And, despite the title, don’t bring the kids.