Nish Kumar made his New Zealand debut at The Classic Studio playing to a majority white audience. While he managed to complete an amusing set clocking in at just over the hour mark without audible uproars or angry heckling, an air of tension was certainly palpable. While not as radical as some of his other South Asian contemporaries, Kumar’s comedy can be described as the perfect middle ground between someone like Hari Kondabolu and Russel Peters. Accessible and not too preachy, but still firm enough to make a point.
The evening began with the ‘being in a new country’ routine. Introductory jokes about New Zealand and expected fare about sheep and Kiwidom warmed up the crowd. As soon as the pleasantries ended however, Nish got right down to business. The first politically contentious joke of the night came in the form of gentrification, or as he liked to call it: ‘the gradual whitening of a community until it’s too pricey for brown people to live there.’ What ensued was an uncomfortable mixed silence, the crowd either finding it hilarious or disagreeable. Luckily he came armed with an astute ability to read the audience, Nish said he would do better to ease us in.
Segueing into a criticism of capitalism through a series of jokes about Monopoly, the show finally began to find it’s stride. Touching on everything from institutionalized racism to the lack of diversity in Hollywood, Nish’s rhythm managed to work up a consistent stream of laughs. A particular bit about Idris Elba was a moment of brilliance, reminding you why you paid money to be there.
While he may not have gone no holds barred, Kumar’s rumination's still proved to be entertaining satire. His ability to keep the mood light while retaining a sense of autonomy was beyond admirable. Whether you’re conservative, liberal, right or left wing, one thing was for certain. Kumar’s comedy was able to transcend, even if you didn’t agree with what he was saying, you either left with a greater sense of empathy, or at the very least, got a laugh out of it.