Going Big: Paul Sinha on new show Pauly Bengali
TV's Paul Sinha on his new, light-hearted musical comedy Pauly Bengali, at the Edinburgh Fringe this August
“What’s the word I’m looking for, Olly?” Paul Sinha shouts over to his husband and Celebrity Gogglebox co-star, Oliver Levy. “’Exponential.’ That’s it. The show is at a primordial stage at the moment, which is exciting and terrifying in equal measure. This is not something that I have been lovingly curating since last September. For me, it’s a bit like coal mining. And I feel like I’ve been mining autobiography for quite a long time, and this time I’d like a lighter tone to the show, so it’s not just me hectoring the audience for an hour about how dramatic my life is.”
The show in question is Pauly Bengali, which he describes as "a light hearted, pathos-free, mixture of songs, jokes and stories," and which Sinha brings to The Stand from 2 August. This time, he promises even more musical treats.
“I’ve done two shows where I have taken a look at Parkinson’s disease, and this show is very different. But one thing it will have in common with the previous two shows is that it will have plenty of music. I never thought I’d have the energy to do musical comedy, but I’ve been doing it for four years now, and it’s really exciting. And it is about taking a gamble.”
While he may be most familiar from his role as a sarcastic teatime quizzing machine on The Chase, Sinha is clear that his new stand-up routine is anything but middle of the road.
“Of course, it’s a balancing act. And the most important thing is that I’m the comedian that I want to be. This year is perhaps going to be one of the more political shows that I’ve done, with everything that has happened over the last two or three years. I think the politics obviously creates a disconnect with the traditional Chase fan who is coming to see ‘the nice man off the telly.’ But I can’t live my life stressing out about that.”
Politics and the state of the nation are clearly issues which inform the comedy that Sinha brings to the Fringe, and he’s not afraid to speak out. In fact, he comes across as positively defiant at the idea that he should ‘stick to the jokes.’
“I look at Twitter sometimes and see people who you may not expect to be political, and anyone who doesn’t agree with their politics says ‘stay in your lane.’ I don’t think any of us should be expected to do that. None of us should be defined by the one thing we’re best known for. And that’s perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of my comedy – I can’t be all things to all people. I mean, if you hate left wing comedians, do not come and see my show. If you’re one of those people who thinks an elite wokerati have taken over the entertainment industry, I’ve got nothing for you.”
In a world where diversity and inclusion are increasingly seen as part of the mainstream rather than a niche concern, Sinha ticks a lot of boxes – a gay, Brown son of immigrants, living with Parkinson’s. Do those definitions mean anything these days, either to him or his audience?
“I mean, I don’t do a survey on why people come to see me. And I know most people may be coming to see me because of The Chase – it gets three million viewers a day. But my priority is to be funny, and honest. And despite everything, I find it very hard to portray myself as a victim. The self-pity button that I could easily press when it comes to Parkinson’s disease has been punctured by four years of relentless bleakness across my social media, of people bereaved, and ill. And you realise that we’re all fighting battles, and while it’s fine to talk about your own demons, it’s a mistake to make out that that’s what makes you special. I know that one day, my Parkinson’s will get worse. By then, it’s unlikely I’ll be doing stand-up. But for now I feel almost blessed to be able to continue my career, where I can talk honestly about what life is like with a neurological illness.”
In that spirit, this year Sinha is playing his biggest ever shows at Edinburgh. At 400 capacity, the Grand Hall at the New Town Theatre is a big step up from his previous Fringe outings.
“It’s a gamble, I know that. But I decided to go big this year. My years of playing at Edinburgh are ebbing away, and I wanted, just one year, to play in a massive room. And it has advantages – when people ask if there are tickets, you can say yes with confidence! So it’s go big, or go home.”
Paul Sinha: Pauly Bengali, The Stand's New Town Theatre, 2-27 Aug (not 3, 15), 5.40pm
This article was produced as part of Diverse Critics, a talent development programme for disabled and/or Black and people of colour arts writers delivered in partnership between Disability Arts Online and The Skinny and supported by The National Lottery through Creative Scotland