The rise of the political satirist Nish Kumar baffles many. If you Google ‘Nish Kumar quotes’ you find a list of the 10 witticisms most widely shared by his fans.
‘My parents wanted me to be a lawyer.’
‘I have a strange nose: it’s big and weird.’
‘When I am on stage I am often thinking about what I will eat after the show.’
This doesn’t help solve the mystery. Kumar is best known in Britain for anchoring The Mash Report, which the BBC believes is a satire show but which neutral viewers regard as a weekly political seminar that teaches liberals to avoid thinking for themselves.
Kumar’s latest venture, Hello America on Quibi, is an attempt to position him as the heir to James Corden or John Oliver. The show is filmed twice a week in a studio without an audience — which saves a lot on staff, venue-hire and a warm-up act.
The theme is world affairs or, as Kumar calls it, ‘the global shit-show’. And because he venerates the Democratic cause, he gives himself little scope to create variety, surprise or unpredictability. For a comedy show, that’s a problem. But the main snag is Trump.
— Hello America on Quibi (@helloamerica) July 6, 2020
It’s over four years since the property tycoon first challenged for the presidency and the chances of a fresh line of attack being discovered are slim. Satirists have always struggled to nail the president who is himself a gifted and witty copy-writer. Phrases like ‘Rocket Man’, ‘Sleepy Joe’ and ‘America First’ are recognized everywhere in the English-speaking world. Plus he’s a successful light entertainer in his own right, which makes him hard for other light entertainers to target.
Boris Johnson has the same advantage and Kumar tends to lump them together. He likens them to ‘bloated beach-corpses re-animated by hate’. Such punch-lines haven’t the smallest trace of humor. They’re pure venom. You can hear the nastiness in the vocabulary. ‘Bloated… corpses’. Kumar is clearly a frustrated and angry comedian. So what drives his rage? Probably the elusiveness of his quarry and his awareness that he lacks the wit to ensnare them.
Kumar’s pet topic is racism which he regards as an ineradicable scourge to which white communities are uniquely prone. He seems oblivious to the possibility he might be affected too. When introducing a white guest he struggles to avoid mentioning their skin color but his black guests are not profiled in the same way. Abuse of whites, especially those on modest incomes, is a running theme.
He invited a white comedienne to imitate a semi-literate American woman who proposed a new movement, ‘Kool Karens Kollective’. Note the initials. This joke promoted the snobbish and racist idea that white females without a good education are likely to be white supremacists.
Yet his obsession with racism is bound to increase it, rather than the opposite. Is that his goal? He appears to want more racism. Without it, he looks embarrassingly over-privileged. He’s a bright, amiable, well-spoken Home Counties chap from a grammar school and a top university (Durham), who enjoys an enviable role as the Beeb’s first-choice satirist. Doubtless he’s wealthy too and if he was gay we’d have heard about it already. So aside from his skin color, Kumar has the full complement of qualities that define ‘the oppressor’. Hence his quest for more racism. His livelihood depends on it. And he’s adept at finding new ways to embed and perpetuate it. Does anyone else in Britain use ‘racism’ as a verb? Here he is on the pandemic:
‘This is one crisis you can’t racism your way out of.’
A segment on his show opens with the subheading, ‘Racism News’, as if racism were an abiding and natural field of human interest like sport or finance. But he rarely brings up his personal experiences of racism — except by accident. In a piece on Kamala Harris he mentioned that she’d been criticized for joining the Biden ticket after having earlier denounced his policies as bigoted.
‘Listen,’ Kumar told us, ‘if people of color didn’t work with people we thought were racist we wouldn’t get very far.’
A surprising admission. He has witnessed racism in show business but kept quiet about it because his career came first.
Kumar’s famous quotes from the internet include a comment on the birth of alternative comedy in the 1980s. Before that, said Kumar, ‘stand-up was a person on stage being sexist and racist.’
He’s taking us back to the bad old days.
This article was originally published onThe Spectator’s UK website.