Review – Paul Chowdhry, Family-Friendly Comedian, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 23rd November 2021

PAUL-CHOWDHRY-FAMILY-FRIENDLYPaul 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.

Rory O'HanlonBut 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.

Paul Chowdhry Live InnitAfter 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.

Paul ChowdhryTwo 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.

Paul ChowdhryThe 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.

Paul Chowdhry on stageIf 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.

Paul CAs 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.

Review – Paul Chowdhry, Live Innit, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 5th March 2018

Paul Chowdhry Live InnitI can’t believe it was three and a half years ago that we last saw Paul Chowdhry doing his PC’s World show in the intimate setting of the Royal Theatre. Now he’s in the Derngate auditorium – over two nights – and virtually sold out for both shows. As he described the Derngate, that’s where the white comedians play. Only Mr Chowdhry can get away with making such remarks without causing offence because, basically, he’s just so damn funny.

Paul ChowdhryIt was, however, an odd evening in many respects, none of them Mr Chowdhry’s fault. Our two tickets in the middle of row F had been double-booked, so a couple who arrived a few minutes after us were disappointed to see a middle-aged couple settled in where they should be sat. The usherette took our tickets and said she would sort it with the Box Office. Then during the interval the duty manager informed us that the Box Office said we had cancelled our tickets back in September and had been refunded with a gift certificate. A hugely embarrassing moment, it felt like we were being accused of a theatre-ticket version of shoplifting. As it turns out we had in fact cancelled a different show but the Box Office had cancelled the wrong one. As a result we had to give up our choice seats and sit in a different area of the auditorium, where I would never normally choose to sit – and it felt a long way from the stage and lacked the usual atmosphere I would expect from a comedy gig. I wouldn’t say it completely ruined the night for us, but it didn’t do it any favours.

Julian DeaneHowever; back to the show. We started off with a support act – Julian Deane. We’d not seen him before and I rather liked his dry and subtle delivery; he has a very clever way of setting up a joke so that the punchline comes at an unexpected point in the story, that catches you out. He has some good material about being a young parent, how it’s wrong to have a favourite child, and the difference between dyslexia and paedophilia. Although he was only on for twenty minutes, he definitely made an impact and gave us lots to laugh at. I’d say that maybe he just lacks a little vocal confidence on the big stage which could turn a very good performance into a great one. But everyone enjoyed his act and we all felt thoroughly warmed up.

Paul Chowdhry with a big beardMuch anticipation for Mr Chowdhry, and when he comes on he just grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go for an hour and a half. His first topic was brilliant – and that’s the ridiculing of people who bought their tickets from Viagogo rather than from the venue. One person admitted to paying £60 for their ticket; others appeared too embarrassed to mention the cost. The Royal and Derngate were charging £20 and that’s all that needs to be said. I loved him calling out Viagogo for their greedy legalised touting; they’re a disgrace.

As usual, he then tried to establish the racial mix of his crowd; loads of Bengalis, quite a few Sikhs, a rich swathe of Gujaratis, a handful of Muslims and the rest were assorted white Daves and Tracies. Some comedians shy away from the subject of race. For Paul Chowdhry, it’s the glue that holds his act together. It’s as though he makes a collection of all the diversities within his audience and then fires them back at us during the course of the show. As always, there was this one guy…. a big Sikh gentleman who tried to get some banter going with Mr Chowdhry but had had one too many Kingfishers to even remember his own name. Such a character was a mere sitting duck for Mr Chowdhry’s colourfully-languaged retorts.

Paul Chowdhry on CrimewatchAmongst the matters for discussion were how last year Social Media went overboard saying that a Crimewatch mugshot of a kidnap suspect was the spitting image of Paul Chowdhry, and how it dogged him online for months; the esteem in which he is held by his family for being 43 and unmarried; observations on Tinder and terrorism; and the vitriol of the online trolls who loathe him and want him dead. Mr Chowdhry is never one to shy away from a tricky subject, and he treats us to a session on how he fights fire with fire when it comes to trolls. An evening with him is not for the faint-hearted or over-sensitive; it’s often uncomfortable and challenging comedy. For example, it’s been a long while since either of us heard the word “mongoloid” used in any context. If you’ve never seen him before, my advice is to take a leaf out of Lady Macbeth’s book and screw your courage to the sticking place before the show, if you’re used to any kind of gentility of language!

When Mrs Chrisparkle and I go to see a show, nine times out of ten we will generally agree on how good it was and how much we enjoyed it. Last night’s show, however, was the one in ten. Whilst I found myself carried away by Mr Chowdhry’s outrageous delivery and material, it left Mrs C cold. Maybe it was the change from the intimate venue to the large one that meant she didn’t feel so involved; maybe it was the unfortunate faffing around during the interval because of the tickets that put her off. Or maybe she didn’t feel there was quite enough material with which she felt comfortable. Whilst walking home, she did point out that he has a repetitive style of delivery which annoyed her; and it’s true, when he gets a good line, he’s quite likely to hammer it home four or five times to get maximum impact. I didn’t particularly notice it; but she did.

Paul Chowdhry on stageHowever, Mr Chowdhry did wander into one area of material that I didn’t appreciate – when he started to question depression. Maybe he was going somewhere with this but then got distracted, because, fortunately, he wandered out of that subject just as quickly as he wandered into it. But I know too many people who constantly fight depression on a daily basis to find this funny. No doubt it could be fuel for some intelligent and questioning comic material – but that didn’t happen last night. Still, that’s the thing with Paul Chowdhry – I’m sure the topics earmarked for each show are merely serving suggestions in his mind and he will always go where the audience takes him, handing out good natured abuse to all and sundry, ridiculing every Dave, Tracey and Rajesh who comes his way. As he says himself, he’s nothing if not an Equal Opportunities Offender.

At least one of us enjoyed the show! Live Innit continues its tour throughout the UK (and Australia and New Zealand) until June.

P. S. Thanks to the Box Office for sorting out last night’s ticket problems so promptly and graciously today. I can return to the Royal and Derngate with renewed confidence!

Review – Paul Chowdhry, PC’s World, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 27th October 2014

PC's worldIt’s always rewarding when a well-known comic performs at the lovely old Royal Theatre and packs it out. At a pinch the Royal can take about 450 people which is the perfect number for a buzzing yet intimate experience. For Paul Chowdhry’s new touring show there were no seats available apart from the couple in the middle of Row B stalls who didn’t turn up, making us in C 8 & 9 look and feel remarkably vulnerable with our unhidden proximity to the stage. Fortunately Mr Chowdhry chose to pick on other, much funnier, people.

As I so frequently have to confess with comics who have come to prominence in the past few years, neither Mrs Chrisparkle nor I had seen him before – I think I may have had a ten second glimpse of him once on a TV show but not long enough to tell if he was funny or not. I had gathered, however, that race plays a significant part in his act, his previous show being “What’s Happening, White People”, and now his new show is called “PC’s World” – and there’s nothing PC about it.

Being a reasonably PC person myself – not priggishly I hope, I just don’t see the point of upsetting people if I can help it – I wondered if I might be offended by any of his material. But I wasn’t remotely – he’s far too funny for that. He’s an incredibly skilful and confident performer and his material is absolutely top notch. I’d estimate that half the evening is actually spent on his routines and the other half on getting to know the people in the first few rows. He’s a big tease – the kind of guy who will find your weak spot in unguarded conversation and then go for it mercilessly, just the way your mates do.

Paul CYou might perceive that some of what Mr Chowdhry does and says might be considered racist. Alternatively, you might not. When it’s presented in such a funny and friendly way, it’s very difficult to identify. What’s racist and what’s not?This is the question posed in some way by almost everything that takes place in the show. He’s perfectly happy to pick on himself as much as anyone else; for example, pointing out how his new beard makes him look like someone trying to get to Syria. He dwells on stereotypes for sure, but stereotypes exist because to some extent they are true.

So when Mr Chowdhry starts talking to “Uncle” in the second row, who’s not showing a flicker of laughter, 18 year old “Afghan” in the front row who’s dressed in a camouflage jacket (you couldn’t make it up), gym bunny “Yadesh” (that may be his name, no one could quite understand) confessing he has a red Porsche at the age of 23 (“ah, a Guju!” exclaimed Mr Chowdhry), or the hordes of unseen lurkers in the balcony, collectively known as “Luton”, he takes our stereotype understanding of what these people might be like, embellishes it and creates a fantasy audience of comic characters, whom we all laugh at, just as much as we laugh at him. And that way, all our hands are dipped in the blood, so if you sense the comedy’s heading in a direction that you’re not entirely comfortable with, for whatever reason, well, you’re already guilty as for having joined in the fun earlier.

Much of this stereotype-enhancing comes from his use of accents, which Mr Chowdhry actually says he doesn’t always feel comfortable using. He does a range of Indian accents (or moods) that go from finger-pointing belligerent to kissy-kissy sweetness – and everything in between; plus, he does cockney thug. Most of his comedy can be personalised with at least one of these voices. Talking of which, I really loved his interpretation of the guy pedalling at the front of the new Indian space rocket, a perfect blend of creative wit and old-fashioned stereotype. Perhaps the most interesting aspect about him is that his humour is, generally speaking, really benign; he does tease but it’s never cruel, it’s creative and revelatory. For all its making fun of racial stereotypes, it unifies us rather than divides us and you end up feeling like part of one big international family, leaving with a multiculturally warm glow to bask in as you go home.

Paul ChowdhryOne of the stage lights, suspended from the top over the back of the stage, exploded last night, behind him during a chat with one of the audience, so he couldn’t see what had happened. Naturally, he assumed that “Luton” had sent in the snipers. It’s not often that the stage itself becomes a heckler! Naturally funny and positive, he has an excellent ability to juggle all the information already gleaned from the audience to use it back at them later on in the show, a relaxed style and an unexpected humility – I really enjoyed his act. Racist? No, more like the antidote to racism. There are a few more dates left at the end of this very long tour but most of them are sold out. We’ll certainly look out for him again next time round.

P.S. As Mrs Chrisparkle and I were walking home we were overtaken by this fiercely fast and flashy red Porsche ripping up the tarmac and screeching terrifyingly as traffic lights unexpectedly turned red. Can only have been Yads taking Uncle and the rest of the family home.