[Return couldn’t come sooner]
My only regret in seeing Nish Kumar’s debut performance at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival last year was that it was his final night, because I would have paid to have seen him again. Fortunately, this year, not only does Kumar have a longer run, he’s been elevated to The Classic mainstage as opposed to the Studio. It’s genuinely exciting to see an artist recognised so quickly for not only their skill, but also their crowd-pulling potential.
This comes as a surprise to Kumar, however, who is candidly appreciative of a full house on opening night. Watching Kumar is like watching a boxer take on an opponent with whom he’s not yet entirely familiar. He comes out with some great flashy moves to show us what he can do, then settles into some fancy glove and footwork to keep us busy, but by the end he’s somehow got us against the ropes and is connecting a flurry of punches. It would be easy to call Kumar polemic at this point, but he’s not. He has a raw fire that great artists have, like George Carlin and Bill Hicks, but with a less ferocious and modernised approach.
As with last year, Kumar is even able to appropriate some of his material to the New Zealand audience, and, even though he does falter at one point and refer to Australia, he is able to do so with an authentic understanding of how the cultural references fit into his routine, as opposed to slathering them on top superficially.
With formidable intelligence, Kumar’s political and social musings are less the ranting of a liberal comedian and more an effusive education in connecting the dots you always wanted to know about, but were too lazy to look into yourself. Kumar was one of my top three picks for the festival last year, and, while it’s far too early to call, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is again. Keep him surprised; give him full houses.
Back with a new show is performed by Nish Kumar and plays at The Classic as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival 2016 until May 7. For details see Comedy Festival.