A diverse crowd has turned up for the Comedy Box’s popular Stand Up for the Weekend gig tonight – some way from the typical Radio 4 audience that headliner Paul Sinha might be expected to draw. Compere Clint Edwards warms us up competently with some spirited flirtation with the birthday groups and couples in the crowd, while first act Ed Gamble manages to get plenty of belly laughs with a set that’s so scatological he seems to surprise even himself.
Despite Paul Sinha describing himself as “perhaps the best-known gay Asian man in the UK not to have had his wife murdered while on honeymoon abroad,” many in this audience seem not to have seen him before. This is perhaps just as well as tonight he reprises his habit, now fairly unusual in top-flight comedy, of repeating material he’s been doing for the best part of a decade. Only about a third of the set is new to this reviewer, but it’s still thrillingly intelligent, finely crafted and honed enough to bear hearing a second or third time.
The appalling recent events in Paris give him a choice excuse to dust off his stuff about the Danish cartoon scandal from nine years ago, making some great digs at BBC ‘diversity’ and ‘balance’ by recalling the time he, a non-practising Hindu, was called in to debate the limits of free speech with radical Muslim activist Anjem Choudary. There’s also some newer, more personal stuff about his current relationship with a younger, fitter and much more right-wing man, whose approach towards Sinha in the bedroom is compared to that of Thatcher’s towards the UK’s mining industry.
It would be nice to see the more familiar stuff punctuated more regularly with nods to something current. But the jokes are so nicely layered, shot through with irony and delivered with such total sure-footedness that it almost makes one yearn for the days before mass exposure on TV, and the demands of the Edinburgh-focussed annual touring schedules, forced most comics to write a whole new set every single year. Most importantly, Sinha’s comedy is both intelligent and hugely crowd-pleasing, getting well-won laughs tonight from old fans and newcomers alike.
Paul Sinha played the Comedy Box at the Hen and Chicken, Bristol on Saturday 17 January. For upcoming Comedy Box line-ups, visit www.thecomedybox.co.uk