Hardeep Singh Kohli: “I tell stories the way Punjabi women tell stories”


Hardeep Singh Kohli at the Jazz FM Awards in London. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)
Hardeep Singh Kohli at the Jazz FM Awards in London. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images)

by REENA KUMAR

THIS year will be Hardeep Singh Kohli’s ninth stint at Edinburgh Festival Fringe where audiences will get the chance to hear him wax lyrical about Brexit, Trump, and Scottish Independence.

As a child of immigrants who studied American politics and law at university, the Scottish Sikh says there was no way he couldn’t address the current political climate with everything that’s going on at the moment.

Speaking over the phone, Kohli, who was born in London and moved to Glasgow when he was four, told Eastern Eye it was a challenge to make his show entitled Alternative Fact funny and not a lecture.

But with US president Donald Trump and British prime minister Theresa May making him “PMSL right now,” he certainly won’t be short of material.

Kohli’s Punjabi identity is very important to him, and so is being Scottish: “I’m a Glaswegian and a Punjabi and there are a lot of common factors. We are both very hospitable, love a drink, love meat and love fighting at weddings.”

Hardeep Singh Kohli reached the final of Celebrity Master Chef in 2006.

The father of two describes his comedy style as one based around storytelling. “I would sit with my mum and my auntsand my female friends at family functions peeling potatoes and I’d learn the way they spoke and I tell stories the way Punjabi women tell stories.”

Kohli, who wrote and presented the BAFTA award-winning series In Search of the Tartan Turban, for Channel 4 over a decade ago, believes that second generation immigrants have the ability to view themselves and others objectively.

He explained: “Because we sit on the periphery of society, although we are accepted, we weren’t always accepted. We find ourselves on the edge of things. That gives us the ability to look at ourselves in a different way and that ability to view yourself objectively, and other things objectively, helps when it comes to telling stories.”

Having been part of the Edinburgh comedy scene for almost a decade, he has seen the festival, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, develop over time.

The Glaswegian said he now sees many more Asian comedians performing and “owning it” and a greater number of female comics taking to the stage.

“The brown British component has been extremely heartening. There’s no longer an excuse not to see women performing because they are among the very best performers on the circuit. Period.

Brown performers also tend to be much better than average because we need to be simply to be accepted (into Edinburgh).”

Although the comedy circuit is more open to taking on diverse talent, Kohli believes that he still faces barriers when it comes to TV, despite having been a regular panellist on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff and a reporter on BBC1’s The One Show.

“Mine was the first brown sitcom on Channel 4 in 2004, they haven’t done one since. There isn’t a brown channel controller or head of television. But the issue with broadcasting isn’t
colour, it is class, there are no working class people working in television. Until that is sorted out, nothing else will be.”

Kohli is launching his YouTube channel in the autumn as he is “so tired of television executives who don’t know anything” and is fed up with having to “ask their permission” to get programmes on.

Besides, he believes television will be obsolete soon. The keen cook, who reached the final of Celebrity Master Chef in 2006, will offer viewers an Indian feast featuring 12
Indian recipes for each day leading up to Christmas.

“There appear to be tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who like my cooking
for one reason or another, bless them, so the way television executives are now,
they are a barrier to the audience.”

Kohli certainly won’t be short of exposure at the annual Edinburgh Festival which features over 50, 000 performers from the world of theatre and dance to cabaret, musicals and spoken word.

Hardeep Singh Kohli performs at Assembly George Square Studios from August 2 to 27.