This is the first time ever that a British-Indian comedian has gotten their own solo stand-up DVD. But then Paul Chowdhry is one of the first Asian comics to find much traction within the mainstream, with his career rather perversely being given a boost after a racist incident at one his gigs was reported in the national newspapers. The publicity helped to open doors and ever since he’s becomes an increasingly familiar face on stand-up shows and comedy panel series.
It’s also obvious from the audience at this Hammersmith Apollo that he has a huge following in the British Asian community (what most of us whities don’t realise is that there’s a whole massive, parallel world of Asian entertainment in the UK – Britain is after all the biggest market for Bollywood films outside India, even if most white people would be hard pressed to name a single Indian movie released over here). Indeed it’s quite interesting that while the DVD is called What’s Happening White People?, Chowdhry doesn’t shy away from using words and talking about issues from the community he was brought up in, which might not mean much to non-British Asian viewers. However you don’t need to worry about feeling left out, as he explains what really needs to be explained, while everything else tends to be passing comments and themes that won’t ruin your experience if you don’t 100% get it.
And race is undoubtedly Chowdhry’s main subject, with his tongue in cheek look at prejudice (Mighty White is apparently the most racist of breads, as are ghosts, because they’re always white), often mediated with a more serious point. However it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether he’s being racist himself. He says a lot of things you know a white person could never get away with, and even though it’s fair enough he gets to talk about his background in ways it would be difficult for someone from elsewhere to chat about, there are times when it does feel he’s slipped beyond purely fair comment and into a territory that is actively racist in and of itself.
He gets away with it because, well, who’s going to stop him, and also because he does intersperse it with funny and perceptive points about race. It’s true that he’s very equal opportunities with it, so that no matter the ethnic origin, everybody comes in for a bit of stick and he’s never holds back on taking on his own background either. Then again Chowdhry hasn’t shied away from the potentially controversial aspects of his act, and has even described it himself as ‘racist comedy’ and seems to actively want his show to be as offensive and sometimes uncomfortable as it is funny.
If I’m being honest, I’ve never been that impressed with Chowdhry when I’ve seen him in brief bursts on various shows, but he’s much better when he’s allowed to go into full flow. He’s definitely a bit of a Marmite taste, as while many will love his rather aggressive, passionate, on-the-edge-of-outright-rudeness style, other will find it a complete turn-off. It’s also true that there’s a slight feeling of randomness about the act, with Chowdhry going off in all directions, with the result that when he’s firing on all cylinders he’s hilarious, but these are interspersed with brief periods where it slightly feels he’s lost his way. As a result it’s certainly not a complete triumph but it is funny, even if some of it is a tad uncomfortable and I’m not certain whether the ‘I can get away with it because I’m Asian’ shtick is really justifiable.
Overall Verdict: Chowdhry can be funny but he’s also a little uneven. He’ll get you thinking and laughing, even if you might end up concluding he’s too rude and borders on being offensively racist.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac