Saint or Sinha?

A fat, gay, Asian doc­tor? Sounds like ma­te­rial for a com­edy act. But Paul Sinha prefers to joke about mi­nor mo­ments – like be­ing on a quiz show with Pat Kenny. He talks to Brian Boyd

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Comedy -

IF COM­EDY prizes were awarded to the best line, then Paul Sinha would have won last year’s If.Com award (for­merly the Per­rier) at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val Fringe. A cor­us­cat­ing rou­tine about how the me­dia re­port mur­der cases fin­ished with a line about the cov­er­age af­forded the vi­o­lent death of model Sally Anne Bow­man. That un­print­able line alone, should have been enough for the If. Com panel but the over­all award went to Phil Nichol.

There was some sur­prise that Bri­tishAsian thir­tysome­thing Sinha had even been nom­i­nated for the award. Viewed as a jour­ney­man club comic who had un­der­whelmed on his last ap­pear­ance on the Fringe with his As­pects Of Love, Ac­tu­ally show in 2004 (a comic de­con­struc­tion of Richard Cur­tis’s vile Love Ac­tu­ally film), he skipped 2005’s fes­ti­val, and re­turned last year with the finely tuned and com­mend­ably lean Saint or Sinha show. It was Sinha’s long day’s jour­ney into com­edy light.

“Af­ter the As­pects show in 2004 made no im­pact with ei­ther crit­ics or au­di­ences, I re­alised that hav­ing an OK show sim­ply isn’t enough to com­pete with the very best in Ed­in­burgh,” he says. “I needed a pas­sion­ate piece, and found that in a largely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal show. I worked and worked on it to get it just right. It was largely a ques­tion of mov­ing from what I usu­ally do on the com­edy cir­cuit, which is to play 20 min­utes to drunks, to do­ing 60 min­utes to sober peo­ple at Ed­in­burgh. The fringe is a mer­i­toc­racy – it’s not what you do on the cir­cuit for the rest of the year, it’s what you do in your hour here that counts. Also be­cause most of the press don’t cover com­edy ex­cept for Au­gust in Ed­in­burgh, I was new to them and came with no bag­gage. Hence the sur­prise in cer­tain quar­ters about my nom­i­na­tion.”

Most of the press cov­er­age around Sinha fix­ates on his “I’m a gay, Asian, over­weight doc­tor” sta­tus – al­most to the point of te­dium. “I sup­pose I’m very much aware of the fact that you do need an an­gle for an Ed­in­burgh show,” he says. “But with the As­pects show, I did com­pletely break free of that – of that tick­ing those four Asian/gay/over­weight/doc­tor boxes. But then some peo­ple said to me af­ter that show: ‘I re­ally pre­ferred the other stuff.’ So it’s hard to know, but I do have to speak about who I am.”

Iron­i­cally, his best ma­te­rial lies out­side his la­bels – there is lit­tle about his Asian back­ground in his ma­te­rial; his day­time work has no real rel­e­vance to his act (and eth­i­cally, doc­tors can’t tell tales out of school); he’s not un­con­scionably fat and the ma­te­rial that is in­formed by his sex­u­al­ity can be some­what re­lent­lessly self-dep­re­cat­ing.

When he bounds free of the so­cio-de­mo­graph­ics though, he dis­plays art­fully sculpted lines that pre­ci­sion bomb le­git­i­mate tar­gets. Whether tak­ing the pulse of an ail­ing so­ci­ety (sorry) or just kick­ing through the fallen leaves of celebrity cul­ture, Sinha can be mor­dantly pen­e­tra­tive.

In this year’s show, King Of The World, he cel­e­brates two of his peak ex­pe­ri­ences. “It’s es­sen­tially two long anec­dotes,” he says. “The first is about me ap­pear­ing on an ob­scure satel­lite television quiz show in 1990 called In­tel­lect, which was pre­sented by (RTÉ’s) Pat Kenny, and how I cor­rectly an­swered a ques­tion about the cur­rency and na­tional em­blem of Gu­atemala. The sec­ond is about a week I spent in Las Ve­gas in 2003 and where I won $2,500 on the roulette ta­ble. The show is about those mo­ments in your life when you’re feel­ing your best.”

Away from the nar­ra­tive struc­ture, Sinha also talks about binge drink­ing, so­cial awk­ward­ness, and his con­sum­ing ob­ses­sion with trivia.

No longer a sur­prise pack­age, he had to work harder this year to re­tain in­ter­est and he de­liv­ered in a briskly paced and tersely writ­ten show. Stage­craft, though, ob­vi­ously isn’t a pri­or­ity for him: he tells rather than shows.

As a non-camp gay comic, Sinha has con­fused peo­ple force fed on a diet of shrill se- quin-shirted gay per­form­ers. Twelve years ago, when he had just started out as a comic, a well-known and key com­edy booker saw his act and said to him af­ter­wards: “What­made you chose this pre­tend­ing to be gay thing, Paul?”

Dis­turbingly, it has taken the emer­gence of Sinha as a comic of real merit to high­light the fact that the in­ter­ests and ideas of gay men in the per­form­ing arts run farwider and deeper than are still gen­er­ally as­sumed. “I think there are an aw­ful lot of non-ef­fem­i­nate gay men out therewho sim­ply aren’t rep­re­sented in the arts, me­dia and cul­ture,” he says. “Be­cause they don’t im­bibe gay cul­ture they can feel ex­cluded – for ex­am­ple, in last year’s show I talked about be­ing a gay foot­ball fan. I do get e-mails from peo­ple who have seen the show about this. You can be gay and be some­thing else as well. You don’t have to sign up to any stereo­type.”

Not that Sinha would can­vas for a fig­ure­head role in the pu­ta­tive New Jerusalem of a “post-gay” so­ci­ety. “To be hon­est with you, I do com­edy as an artis­tic state­ment and to make peo­ple laugh,” he says. “I don’t set out to in­spire peo­ple or make peo­ple feel bet­ter about their lives. If those are by-prod­ucts of what I do, then good, but it’s re­ally not what I’m set­ting out to do. All I’m try­ing to do is to be Paul Sinha the stand-up co­me­dian.” Paul Sinha plays the IFI, Eus­tace Street, Dublin on Septem­ber 15th and Septem­ber 16th (10.15pm) as part of the Bul­mers In­ter­na­tional Com­edy Fes­ti­val. www.mys­pace.com/paulsinha

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