Nish Kumar and the trouble with clapter comedy

His material doesn’t work if you don’t already agree with him. No wonder he was booed.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Deputy Editor

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‘Comedian gets booed off stage’ is not ordinarily a news story. It happens to the best of them. But there is something about Nish Kumar’s car-crash performance at a charity benefit that seems to have caught the public imagination.

Kumar headlined the Lord’s Taverners Christmas lunch this week, a more Tory audience than the liberal-left comic is used to. Much of his planned 20-minute set was met with boos. Someone threw a bread roll. And he was eventually ushered off stage.

Only the final eight minutes of the debacle is circulating online, but Kumar told the Guardian that the hostility was almost instant when he got on stage, as he launched into what he characterised as ‘extremely mild jokes about Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Theresa May and the Brexit process’.

But it’s hard not to think this was as much about his lack of comic skill as it was a lack of consensus between crowd and performer.

The footage begins with Kumar seeming to riff on the ‘Blitz spirit’ platitudes mouthed by the more colourful Tory Eurosceptics. He says it is nonsense to suggest the wartime spirit will get us through the potential turbulence of Brexit, given people today can barely put up with their iPhone battery running down to eight per cent.

Whatever you think about the sentiment, that is a rubbish joke.

Now, to his credit, Kumar seemed up for a fight. ‘I spend a lot of time bathing in a glow of consensus’, he told the Guardian, ‘but you have to be willing to say something to people who might not agree with you and take the consequences of what follows’.

That said, he has also laid the blame for this disaster with the supposedly thin-skinned audience. ‘They were more easily offended than I thought they would be. I would like to apologise if I triggered any of them’, he joked, a sentiment that was echoed across social media.

Like everyone else pontificating about this, I wasn’t there. The event may well have been packed with right-wing snowflakes, who are a swelling breed these days. But we should always be wary of a comic who blames his audience for their lack of laughter. Plus he clearly didn’t do himself any favours.

In the clip, Kumar responds to the audience’s anger like a soft-touch supply teacher struggling to keep control of a class. ‘What, you want jokes?’, he says in response to one heckler. ‘I was trying to tell you some jokes before you all started shouting.’ Zing.

And it went downhill from there.

The problem was not actually that he doubled down. If only. The best line that he got in was about the audience looking like the sort of people who colonised his ancestors. He’d already lost the room by this point, but at least one table erupted. Which is something.

For the rest of it, he just aired his bemusement at the response he was getting, rather than actually telling any jokes. This culminated in him refusing to leave, and saying he is ‘Bercowing it, going full Bercow’ – the meaning of which seemed lost even on himself.

Partisan, political comedy of the sort practised by Kumar – who fronts the BBC’s topical comedy show, The Mash Report – always runs the risk of dividing an audience. But better comics can work around this; they can play with it, in a way he clearly can’t.

On his last tour, alternative-comedy hero Stewart Lee opened each half of his show with some variation on the line ‘Not everyone who voted Brexit [/ Trump] is racist, some of them are just c***s’. But it was so brilliantly, crudely delivered, it wrenched a laugh even out of this Leaver.

Similarly, a few years back, I saw Tory comic Geoff Norcott kill in a room of liberals at the Edinburgh Fringe, who actually audibly gasped when he announced early on in the set that he had voted Leave. His entire show was political. But his keen observations and honed delivery made them laugh against their better judgement.

What Kumar does is something very different. He’s what some would call a ‘clapter’ comic: his jokes elicit more agreed applause than they do gut laughter, and he exudes a certain smugness as a result, further putting off anyone who doesn’t already agree with him.

His Live at the Apollo set, one of his most-watched clips online, literally ends with him ranting, sans jokes, about the failures of housing policy – all to rapturous applause. He then closes by saying, and I’m not making this up, ‘I’m very clever’.

It’s anyone’s guess why this kind of schtick didn’t go down well with a less-than-right-on crowd.

Some are trying to present Kumar’s booing, unconvincingly, as an example of offence culture. But that’s just not the case here.

We’re not talking here about a comic being forced to sign forms before a show, warning him or her off certain topics. We’re not talking about a comic being fined or investigated for making offensive jokes.

What we’re talking about is the most natural thing in the world: a comic misjudging an audience and dying on their arse as a result.

Of course, people tend to like political comics they agree with over political comics they don’t agree with. But that doesn’t mean a left-wing comic is incapable of making a more right-wing audience laugh, or vice versa.

The problem with Kumar is that his material simply doesn’t work if you don’t already agree with him. And it’s not that funny even if you do.

The point of the clapter comic, you see, is not to make you laugh, but to remind you of what you (should) already think. And if your comedy relies entirely on people agreeing with your prejudices, then you are going to get a shock when you step outside your bubble.

No wonder he was booed.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Comments

Steve Foreman

27th December 2019 at 9:51 am

I agree with every word of this article.

And many of the comments.Good job.

And I love a bread roll.

John Felgate

3rd January 2020 at 12:13 pm

Part of the problem is that the target of the jokes is not just the unfashionable ideas
in the abstract (brexit, Toryism etc), but also the types of people perceived to hold those opinions. Thus, being old (or even middle aged) and living outside London are in themselves treated as being risible. People who fit into those categories, AND hold ‘incorrect’ views, are held up as objects of contempt. It is a shame, because there may well be plenty of scope for genuine comedy based around the divisions that have opened up in recent years, but genuine humour should be laced with a bit of affection and acceptance of each other’s differences. Whereas, what we have been served up by the BBC seems to be motivated only by spite.

Ven Oods

11th December 2019 at 9:31 am

So this article is now at the top of the ‘Most Popular’ column.
How amusing (unlike Nish, unfortunately).

Phil Ford

9th December 2019 at 11:28 am

Why not invite him to submit a piece to Sp!ked to put across his side of the story?

Marvin Jones

10th December 2019 at 11:08 am

Just read the Guardian for that. He’s just another BME extreme lefty who wants to turn this country into a BME foreign lefty country. It would be great to see him on the dole queue.

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

7th December 2019 at 7:36 pm

“The best line that he got in was about the audience looking like the sort of people who colonised his ancestors.”

Wot?!

Mu$1!m colonisers and slavers?!

The one table that laughed probably did so at the irony of him not realising why the Hindu Kush are so called!!!

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

7th December 2019 at 7:30 pm

Kumar saying it’s nonsense to suggest the wartime spirit will get us through the potential turbulence of Brexit, given people today can barely put up with their iPhone battery running down to eight per cent makes as much sense as claiming people didn’t get through the Blitz because their mums didn’t have enough gas or coal to fill their hot water bottles more than 8% full for them!

Or enough wool for their grans to knit a comfort blanket than covered more than 8% of them!!!

Gerard Barry

9th December 2019 at 10:22 am

“Coloniser” jokes are also pretty dumb considering that his parents and so many other colonised people subsequently came to the UK of their own free will.

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

7th December 2019 at 7:25 pm

“Kumar told the Guardian that the hostility was almost instant when he got on stage, as he launched into what he characterised as ‘extremely mild jokes about Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Theresa May and the Brexit process’.”

But what was the reaction to his jokes about Corbyn, McDonald, Swinson, Sturgeon, Sian Berry, Caroline Lucas, and the Remaining process?!

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

7th December 2019 at 7:17 pm

“Now, to his credit, Kumar seemed up for a fight. ‘I spend a lot of time bathing in a glow of consensus’, he told the Guardian, ‘but you have to be willing to say something to people who might not agree with you and take the consequences of what follows’.”

So how often does he say challenging things to his usual “progressive” lefty “liberal” audience?

And what is THEIR reaction if and when that triggers them?!

Tim Wheeler

7th December 2019 at 7:05 pm

I used to be a massive BBC and Radio 4 fan. I was really inspired at the idea of public service broadcasting and fair-minded journalistic standards. Maybe I’ve changed, but these days it feels like a like it’s just pushing a narrative whilst being deaf & blind to any other views: more than that – they actively want drown out and silence other views. The comedy is just another opportunity to push the news & politics narrative to those who don’t watch BBC news and current affairs – cos they must somehow ‘Educate & Correct’ us stupid & deluded common folks and get a Remain vote. Perhaps they’ll follow China and build BBC/E.U. re-education camps for Brexit Voters?

antoni orgill

7th December 2019 at 3:08 pm

yeah, he’s quite tedious and needs better material quick-style.

zack smith

7th December 2019 at 11:23 am

I lean more towards the left than the right but I can’t stand the typical BBC Radio 4 comic. The problem isn’t their politics, the problem is the sneering contempt they have for anyone who disagrees with them. They are so narrow minded.

Don’t lecture us, just be funny.

Ven Oods

6th December 2019 at 10:03 am

I wonder why they booked him for the event.
Were the bread rolls that inedible?

Rufus Armstrong

5th December 2019 at 2:54 pm

All I can see from this is that Kumar has double standards when I comes to race, and his own standards don’t apply to white British people, in short he is a full on anti white racist.

Rufus Armstrong

5th December 2019 at 3:34 pm

Another point is Important here in regards the Meecham case, we should report this event as what it is , a racist hate crime, and use it to test the waters , if the police and CPS refuse to take any action on this blatant case then I think it will be beyond doubt that Mr Meechan’s prosecution was politically motivated and unfair. I have reported this and I hope you do as well .

Gerard Barry

5th December 2019 at 10:32 am

“The best line that he got in was about the audience looking like the sort of people who colonised his ancestors.”

This reminds me of a “joke” I once heard on TV by some black African performer at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. She told the audience how her white British boyfriend calls her his “African queen” and she calls him her “coloniser”. Given that she was the one living in a foreign country, I would have thought that if anyone was a coloniser it would be her. I find politically correct comedy anything but funny.

Matt Sotiriou

4th December 2019 at 10:24 pm

Woeful comedian always found him very annoying on mock the week when it was vaguely funny in the pre trump and Brexit days. Always came across as the BBCs naff attempt to create a British Aziz Ansari with his jokes about white people etc. I often wonder what these bland panel show type comedians would do if they got all the things the wanted like labour getting into power and Brexit being cancelled or whatever. I can’t even remember what they used to be like.

Danny Rees

4th December 2019 at 9:09 pm

Stupid lefty twat he should go make himself a parody account of SJWS. He’ll get a lot more gigs that way.

Michael Lynch

4th December 2019 at 8:53 pm

I watched him for about ten minutes once before turning over. He’s just not funny and he has obviously one hell of a large chip on his shoulder.

Frank Strong

4th December 2019 at 7:52 pm

He should have battery acid thrown in face ha ha ha ha

Danny Rees

4th December 2019 at 9:08 pm

That was Jo Brand that made that joke not Nish.

Jerry Owen

5th December 2019 at 8:26 am

It was a wish list for the odious fat bucket not a joke.

NEIL DATSON

4th December 2019 at 6:51 pm

Like so many commenting I’ve almost completely given up on BBC comedy (my consumption having been almost entirely Radio 4, as I don’t have a television). The News Quiz used to be a favourite, but it seemed to be becoming more and more stereotypical ‘pc material’ for years before the referendum; after which it just became a dreary moan fest. I have heard of Kumar but can’t claim to any knowledge of his work.

All that said, my reason for posting is to take issue with Tom Slater’s reference to ‘the ‘Blitz spirit’ platitudes mouthed by the more colourful Tory Eurosceptics’. As far as I’ve ever observed such platitudes only come out of the mouths of the Remain lobby attempting to characterise leave voters. Check out the comments below the line on any Guardian Comment is Free article on Brexit for examples. That leave voters are obsessed with the Battle of Britain etc is a colossal lie that never fails to appeal to a certain section of the electorate, but one that they are never prepared to question.

Peter Gordon

4th December 2019 at 7:44 pm

Neil. Get a internet radio, find Tunein where you will find a number of Old Time Radio stations who provide British comedy. There are many news stations out there such as 2GB873, an Australian radio station which is not the BBC, and they let you know that there is a world outside the UK. I can’t say that the media out there is any better than ours, but do think that ours is far down the list. I too am sick of the BBC and have stopped listening, watching or reading any of its output on the internet.

Ven Oods

6th December 2019 at 10:01 am

Have to agree about the News Quiz. Never been the same since the deaths of Alan Coren and Linda Smith.
Same goes for the Now Show. Quite recently they had a self-avowed right-wing comic (Geoff Norcott?) whose set was the show’s highlight (not least because he riffed on how unusual and unexpected he must be on a latterday BBC radio comedy show).
I used to be a staunch defender of the BBC, but must admit that it has degraded to such an extent that I no longer care. Right-on, but hardly a public service broadcaster.
Amusingly, the Left seem to see it as biased toward the Right, which leads me to believe they really are deranged.

zack smith

7th December 2019 at 11:29 am

The BBC doesn’t have a simple left/right bias. It has an establishment bias. Most of its staff are private school, then Oxbridge. It gets most of its comics from the fringe, which is dominated by posh Cambridge/Oxford types.

This leads to a bias because the people who staff the BBC come from the same background and create a little echo chamber. They are biased to the left when it comes to social issues. Painfully WOKE, pro-feminist, pro-open borders.

They are biased the other way when it comes to economic issues. Most of the staff of the BBC come from well off back grounds. So they instinctively oppose any hint of higher taxes or anything that will hit them in the pocket.

The average BBC type is basically New Labour or what they use to call a Tory wet.

moqi fen

4th December 2019 at 6:25 pm

“i want you white people in the audience to do something for me…. I want you to go home and kill your racist Brexit voting parents” Cutting edge comedy there. Got hit with a bread roll -should have been a chair.

Gerard Barry

5th December 2019 at 10:25 am

Seriously, he said that?

Christopher Hawkins

9th December 2019 at 11:42 am

He didn’t say that though did he? I can’t find it anywhere other than in your quote and in what looks like a fake meme.

Joseph Brown

4th December 2019 at 6:19 pm

Who? Never heard of him.

James Knight

4th December 2019 at 6:08 pm

His act only worked in the BBC echo chamber. Outside that it is as cringe-worthy as Jim Davidson doing his “Chalky” character. He is the biggest bomb since Nagasaki.

Paul Robson

4th December 2019 at 6:49 pm

It’s the same as the “Chalky White” joke comics. Appealing to basic prejudices – “Blacks are all stupid” isn’t that far from “Leavers are all racists”

Rufus Armstrong

5th December 2019 at 3:51 pm

All comedy characters are fools of some kind. Davidson or anyone else isn’t going to crate a character that is not a joke.

Jerry Owen

4th December 2019 at 5:58 pm

If you’re going to take the p*ss out of your audience make sure you take it out of all your audience. Try and sound them out first even.
Were the audience offended or did they just not find him funny.. he’s judging them by his snowflake standards I think.
Leo Kearse ( or Hearse ), now there’s an up an coming comedian .. on YouTube.

Paul Robson

4th December 2019 at 7:07 pm

The jokes will all be variation on “Boris/Leavers/Trump is a c**t”. They get hammered if they do ; look at the response to Tracey Ullman taking the mickey out of Corbyn – screaming from the left. Problem is if you look at the “sketch summary” on wikipedia you can see there are twice as many skits about the Tories as there are about Labour.

Danny Rees

4th December 2019 at 9:11 pm

Yeah and tacking the mickey out of Trump…screaming from the Right.

It goes full circle.

Jerry Owen

5th December 2019 at 8:28 am

Danny Rees
Care to give us some examples of Trumps ‘screaming from the right’ ?

Stu Gre

4th December 2019 at 4:45 pm

The “clapter” comedy infected the BBC first years ago tainting everything from News Quiz/Now Show through to Have I Got News For You. All shows I found briliiantly witty and funny 6 or 7 years ago and yet my political leanings haven’t changed and the right was more often than not their target for the last 20 or so years.

Seems all you need to do is turn up, say “Orange Man Bad” or “Thick brexit voters” and someone will rush to add the canned laughter. The crying shame is there is SO much potential with Trump and Brexit (plus another 50 or so other topics) for genuine comedy – if there are any comedians left?

Ian Wilson

4th December 2019 at 5:40 pm

Absolutely, 100% agree STU GRE

Mike Ellwood

4th December 2019 at 5:55 pm

Mind, the Now Show was never very funny in the first place (IMHO), but it’s right-on-ness just has me reaching for the off-switch. The News Quiz is still funny I think, and has always been better than its TV equivalent, which just seems to be an opportunity for Hislop and Merton to show off, and for Hislop to practice looking smug, not that he needs any practice.

Stuart Lee is a brilliant comic I think, and I can comfortably ignore his right-on-ness. Jeremy Hardy was also brilliant, and could probably have held any sort of audience.

Paul Robson

4th December 2019 at 6:51 pm

Early 1990s, Jeremy Hardy was given the job of providing the entertainment for the christmas do of my place, a bunch of computer programmers, most of whom were centre or right. I was one of them. He went down an absolute storm. (And still had political material)

Hugh Bryant

4th December 2019 at 4:32 pm

If Nish Kumar was white British he’d be working at Starbucks – or maybe PC World, not collecting six figures every year from the BBC.

Bill Cook

4th December 2019 at 4:01 pm

Andrew Doyle had this summed up perfectly. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, it’s easy to make people laugh when they’re agreeing with you but if your material doesn’t make people who disagree with you laugh as well then perhaps it wasn’t that funny in the first place.

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

7th December 2019 at 7:45 pm

It’s not just people agreeing with a comedian, it’s agreeing with his choice of victim!

cliff resnick

4th December 2019 at 3:20 pm

Kumar is just not a funny man, a good example of a big fat ignorant (git); can I say that these days? Was Bernard Manning, any “ist” you care to think of was game, uncompromisingly offensive to a point of being barely legal, and although you wouldn’t have seen me dead in one of his audiences, he was a very funny natural comedian, which Kumar is not. I hope the comparison drives our Nish nutz!

Jim Lawrie

4th December 2019 at 5:44 pm

I don’t know what you mean by a “natural” comedian. Bernard Manning was witty, and smart as a whip, with the same sting.
Legality, aka censorship, has the same role in comedy as elsewhere. That is to say, it kills it.
If you take Kumar’s whining to its logical conclusion, then he would have it made illegal not to laugh at his jokes. I watched him on TV once for about 5 minutes and that was it.

It was political correctness that had Bernard Manning banned from TV, not audience numbers. And the arrogance to decide what we should not hear.

john larkin

4th December 2019 at 7:46 pm

Bernard Manning said, I think, that what alternative comedians did, was as an alternative to being funny …

Michael Lynch

4th December 2019 at 9:00 pm

Always found Manning extremely funny even when he ripping into us Irish. Used to love watching him deal with his hecklers and even they’d laugh in response. You always got the sense that he meant no real harm; it was just harmless comedy. Kumar just isn’t funny and he obviously has grievance issues with white people. In reality, he’s just as racist as Manning was.

Roderick Mackenzie

5th December 2019 at 10:42 am

Bernard Manning was actually funny! He was a social commentator more than a comedian ( but he did make people laugh as much at themselves as his material.)
There are few comedians around now who can make me laugh in the way he did or Richard Pryor or Robin Williams did in the USA.I did laugh myself silly when Louis CK a lefty comedian was destroyed by the very people who once supported him.I actually though the set he did was funny ( a bit) but the Lefty’s never forgive and never forget.Laughter and Good Jokes are verboten!

Jim Lawrie

5th December 2019 at 11:46 pm

Michael Lynch. Bernard Manning in his jokes often gave the Black or Pakistani guy the punchline.

cliff resnick

5th December 2019 at 12:20 pm

“big fat ignorant git” was his stage persona obviously he was far from stupid. I used to say that he was the funniest “big etc” in Manchester, I always enjoyed his Shtick

In Negative

4th December 2019 at 3:10 pm

“We lose a lot of people, that’s all I’m saying”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoNb_bswHa0&pbjreload=10

John Reic

4th December 2019 at 3:01 pm

I was trying to think if someone was arrested for inciting Racist violence whether I was joking would be the defence, arguably it’s at A comedy event he thinks he’s a comedian and It’s unlikely he really felt he would actually inspire the audience to do it, ,although it could be argued that he knew it would go outside the room and be heard by others who may do it

if AS a wihte man he’d said to BAME people ,folks go home kill your kids as they’ support the rcist anti Semite labour party, i’m sure his career would be over

the fact he’s tried to portray himself as the victim, not just because he nearly got hit by a bread roll, but the fact that because those who booed him must have been Racist brexiter old fogies ,who then not only on seeing him as BAME person, but thought that it was justified in retaliating by booing him as ,his comment while he considered it funny was offensive to the point of slander and prejudice

the fact that those who took to twitter to attack his critics ,have called the critics, right wing wokes. Show that they don’t get that it was,his own arrogance that he thought the audience would agree with him

I’m waiting for it to be called a hate cirme

Jim Lawrie

4th December 2019 at 5:56 pm

In the Nazi pug case joking was categorically and unequivocally ruled out as a defence, the sheriff asserting that “A joke can be grossly offensive. A racist joke or a grossly offensive video does not lose its racist or grossly offensive quality merely because the maker asserts he only wanted to get a laugh.”

Mark Meechan was found guilty of being grossly offensive under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

There are no guidelines as to what constitutes grossly offensive.

H McLean

4th December 2019 at 9:31 pm

Indeed, the magistrate of the Meechan case specifically said context does not matter, which when you think on it is utterly moronic.

Rufus Armstrong

5th December 2019 at 3:53 pm

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