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The comedian talks ethnic stereotypes, his first live DVD, and new Edinburgh show What’s Happening White People?

How is new show What’s Happening White People? coming along?
It’s changing every time I perform it. It is about multiculturalism in contemporary Britain and the way that we perceive it. I walk out on stage and say, ‘What’s happening, white people?’ and it has become a catchphrase now. People say it to me in the street. Bruce Forsyth has, ‘Nice to see you, to see you nice’ and I have this.

You’ve been doing Stand Up For The Week on C4, as well…
I have picked up a following from that. It’s intense – you do a new routine every week for 10 weeks. There is no other show where you get to perform a whole new stand-up set every week. On TV, generally you do your greatest hits. On the last episode, I talked about the Graham Norton Show recently with Will.i.Am where [Harry Potter actress] Miriam Margoyles said it was nice to meet him because he’s black. He laughed it off, and the audience laughed out of embarrassment. She didn’t mean it in a racially derogatory way, but you can’t just say that.

Racism has been in the media recently especially with the European Football Championships in Ukraine…
It brought up a lot of debate, with Sol Campbell saying: ‘Don’t go there.’ I thought: ‘We don’t want John Terry going out there, he might not come back!’

Does being on TV change what you write about?
You have to send it to the lawyers, and they go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

What can you not say?
We had a whole discussion about saying the Jamaican word ‘bloodclot’. It was interesting having a whole load of lawyers and C4 people speaking patois to each other, and I then had to explain what it meant.

Is it frustrating being tagged as an ‘Indian comic’, not just a comic?
You don’t get many ethnic people on TV these days – there is no ethic person with their own show right now. You’re still talking about Lenny Henry how long has that been? I get pegged as a ‘British-Asian stand-up’, but why do you have to narrow it down to that? They want to put you in a box but they don’t say ‘middle class Englishman Michael McIntyre’.

How did you get started in comedy?
I grew up with the old Seventies and Eighties comedy – Little And Large, Russ Abbott, and you can see I am hugely influenced by Morecombe and Wise, too.

You play characters in your stand-up – does character comedy bring risks of being misunderstood?
If you are a character like Al Murray or Lee Nelson the line is very blurred and people do take it seriously – you get skinheads turning up. Sacha Baron Cohen does the same thing with
Ali G and Borat and gets called homophobic!

It’s whether you’re laughing at the character or the character’s jokes…
Exactly, my characters come out on stage. I don’t stay in the same one for the whole show. And I like to act out scenes rather than describe them; an audience has to think, ‘You’ve just done something we couldn’t,’ or you might as well be down the pub talking with your mate.

Do audience reactions surprise you?
Yeah, people now either love me or hate me, which is how you want it to be, because that’s when you find your true audience. But now people go mad for it – I was trending on Twitter after the [C4 Comedy] Gala, which was in front of 20,000 people at The O2. And I did push it; I talked about the BNP, and it had more hits on YouTube than anyone else on the Gala. But you get attacked for it a lot, too. So many trolls; sometimes I think it is the EDL, even though I am not even Muslim. They’ve not understood it quite it right!

You’re doing What’s Happening White People? for your first live DVD…
It’s the first time a British Indian comic has had his own DVD deal, too. Omid Djalili had one buthe’s Iranian, people forget Iran’s a different country. The thing I like about my audience is that everyone comes – English, Indian, black and white, and when everyone’s in the room together you can cross so many barriers. Whereas if you’re playing to one audience they can get uptight that you’ve spoken on someone else’s behalf. But frequently people come up after shows and say they’ve learnt something about another culture. 

DVD recording at Hammersmith Apollo, Sept 22
and performing nightly at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Order Paul's debut DVD What’s Happening White People? now: http://j.mp/paulchowdhry 


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'What's Happening White People?' Comedian Paul Chowdhry chats with TNT about his new stand-up show
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