The internationally acclaimed stand-up comedian Paul Chowdhry was the first Indian comedian to break into commercial British comedy TV. Having just begun his latest UK tour, What’s Happening White People, after headlining Channel 4’s Stand up for the Week, selling out major UK venues and doing other comedy shows such as 8 out of 10 Cats, Paul Chowdhry is hot material in the world of comedy. Sangeeta Jheinga interviewed Paul ahead of his upcoming tour date in Nottingham.
So you’re part-way through your What’s Happening White People tour: how’s it been so far?
Yeah, it’s been good. We’re just at the start; the third date was in Hammersmith Apollo, where we recorded a DVD. It comes out in November as the first ever British Asian comedy DVD in this country, so we put a lot of my greatest bits on there.
You’ve had a really impressive career so far. After such a successful 2011, do you feel any pressure?
Yeah, but I mean, I did sixteen Stand up for the Week’s which is a topical stand-up show, based on the news. It’s probably the toughest show around: we had to turn over a new comedy set in two days. I did about fifteen hours a day, Monday to Wednesday, just writing comedy; it was intense. But that was great, a real challenge. So I guess you could say I’m used to pressure.
Getting to perform with Michael McIntyre at the Channel 4 Comedy Gala… I mean, you’ve made it really.
Well, I started off with Michael McIntyre, and Jimmy Carr, Russell Brand – I’ve known them for 10 years since we were doing spots together in the small clubs. But obviously it can be a bit difficult if you’re Asian in this country to get the break so, since I’m the first to have done it, hopefully I’m opening the doors for others to follow.
So how did you get into comedy?
In 1998, I got my degree and I went out and tried it – you don’t know you can do comedy until you try it. At the beginning, I thought it’d be more of a hobby really. You don’t think you’re gonna make a career out of it. But stand-up is something you’ve really gotta enjoy. It’s the purest, toughest art form. Just you and a microphone.
What attracted you to being a comedian?
I used to be interested in the art form: people telling stories, creating a picture, by speaking to a crowd of people. That’s what really intrigued me – there’s no sex, no scenes.
So how do you prepare or rehearse for a show?
I go through my material, and the structure of the show. I don’t rehearse as such; I test it in front of an audience. When I’m preparing for a tour, I’ll book up a smaller venue and try the new jokes, see what works. People think you just get up and speak for the first time, but you do the clubs for months and test the material. It’s all about the writing process, figuring out what works where. It takes a long time.
How do you keep all your material new and fresh without being too controversial?
Well, I just do what I do. I don’t care if people find it controversial. One person’s controversy is another person’s humour. But essentially everything’s gotta be funny. You’re bound to offend people by opening your mouth. People have been offended by ‘what’s happening white people’. It depends on how you read it. I think there has to be a balance between people who like you and people who don’t. Who likes everything?
Since you were born in Britain, what do you consider your nationality to be?
British Indian really. I went to India last year, did a few shows and made a little documentary myself. It’s interesting ‘cos you realise how British you are – the way we behave is very different from how they raise you in India.
I’m Indian as well but I was born in England. I’ve never been to India!
Yeah, I went when I was a kid, and then last year. It’s quite modern now. Back in the 80s, you could say racist words, like ‘paki’, and audiences would laugh. Now, it’s illegal; look at the way they treated John Terry. When you do racial material, people of the same colour or nationality as you, who have been through the same experiences, they find it funny because it’s an escape valve. But others find it offensive, because they haven’t experienced it.
What sort of things can we expect from your tour this year?
A range of issues: the kind of stuff I went through as a kid, perceptions, personal experiences. Then we try and tackle some of the racial issues. It’s kind of a journey on that.
Paul Chowdhry is performing at the Nottingham Glee Club this Thursday, 4th October.