Fracas.

Top Gear is not my kind of thing. That said I am not really its target audience, as I have no interest in cars and I think that its contrived laddishness is something that should be left to younger presenters. Nonetheless it is a massive success, and I am certainly not in the business of trying to deny other people their entertainment fix of choice.

In fact a few years ago I did a piece on Radio 4’s Now Show defending Jeremy Clarkson. My point was that although we are politically chalk and cheese, I thought that people had wilfully misunderstood the point of some of his jokes through sheer dislike. Saying this on the Now Show was to walk into a mild mannered liberal lions den, but I stand by what I said.

I was defending him based on a forensic examination of the motivation of some of his words. What has become very clear in the last 24 hours is that there are people who would slavishly defend him if he’d defenestrated a nun. To a lot of people Clarkson is not just a TV presenter. He has come symbolize the antidote to the namby pamby  political correctness that has paralysed the BBC resulting in programmes such as Wolf Hall, Question of Sport, Peaky Blinders and err Top Gear. He is a true champion of ordinary people. (Current fees for Repton, £7825 per term).  He is a bloke, he doesn’t care for feminism and other such poisons of the modern age, and as such he should be able to punch anyone he damn well likes. Anything else is simply lefty claptrap.

To cover my options here, I ought to point out that I have no idea what actually happened, and it may well be that an internal investigation may exonerate Clarkson. That is because I have possess something called self doubt. Self doubt is a quality utterly lacking in the #BringbackClarkson mob who have already made their mind up that Clarkson is either 1. Innocent or 2. Entirely justified in resorting to workplace assault. How fortunate it must be to be famous and rogueishly rightwing, knowing that your army of braindead blowhards will back you no matter what. If Clarkson does feel untouchable at times, I wonder whose fault that might be.

This post seeks neither to defend nor attack Jeremy Clarkson. But in workplaces up and down the country if you are accused of throwing a punch, you will in all likelihood be suspended. The #BringbackClarkson campaign is a morally repugnant apology for violence which simply illustrates that if you have enough fame and influence, far too many of your fans are prepared to give you a free ride.

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I am not going to have a go at Chelsea fans. As a Liverpool fan I am only too aware how dispiriting it is to have a club shamed by a minority. I am not a fan of Chelsea FC, their chairman, their ethos, their one eyed manager. Nonetheless I am pretty sure that the majority of their fans do not share the thuggish, racist values of the imbeciles seen in the recent video footage from Paris. And I don’t think anyone who has ever travelled on trains on a Saturday morning or early evening can honestly believe that this is a problem confined to Chelsea. The idea that loud, boorish, aggressive drunken tribalism is little more than “banter” is a national problem. Racism is just one of the many ways this can spill over. I travelled on train from Paris back to London last week where the entire carriage had to endure six guys shouting the place down with loud, sweary anti women and anti gypsy rants. Unsurprisingly not one person including me dared asked them to tone it down.

But football seems to be the main outlet for this socially disfiguring behaviour. On twitter grown adults, proud responsible parents, think it is ok to target footballers with illiterate abuse. The world game is run by Sepp Blatter, a corrupt, sexist, homophobic dullard who thinks nothing of handing the worlds biggest global event to those bastions of liberalism Russia and Qatar. The man is an ethical vacuum. Is it any wonder that the values which trickle down leave a lot to be desired?

I know a lot of people who refuse to tweet about football, such can be the vociferously nasty response. This aggression, this inability to rationalise life beyond your own undying love for one football club, is part of the same problem. By all means be disgusted by the behaviour of some racist Chelsea fans. But if you tweet foul mouthed abuse at strangers, if you honestly can’t see why people might be upset at the signing of Ched Evans or that it  is a complicated issue, if a simple game of football fills your heart with hatred rather than excitement, or if your own drunken behaviour renders public transport a more fearful, unpleasant environment for the public, then you are part of the same problem.

And as for racist football fans. You claim to be fans of a sport which, when played at the highest level, is the most multiethnic of all team sports. Chelsea themselves have enjoyed a decade of spectacular success based on the skills and talent of players and staff from across the globe. Do everyone a favour and take a step back, and then out of football, and leave it to people who appreciate the fact that the “beautiful game” is both beautiful, and just a game.

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Thoughts on 2014.

1. Watching the title slip out of Liverpool’s grasp was painful. In retrospect I should have enjoyed the rollercoaster more, rather than be consumed by anxiety. But I am glad I am not one of the schadenfreude kids who can’t find anything of interest in their own team so live their football viewing lives vicariously through the misfortune of others. What a sad state of affairs that is.

2. Germany 7 Brazil 1.      Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

3.  Touring as always was both overall enjoyable and a decidedly mixed bag. For every audience member wh0 was heard to observe “I’m glad I didn’t bring my wife, she hates shit stabbers as well”, there were plenty for whom my surprisingly gay schtick was not remotely a problem. The highlight of the tour and possibly my career was Glasgow. The lowlight was receiving a Facebook message from someone explaining in detail why she had walked out of my Kendal show at half time. I certainly couldn’t fault her grammar.

4. Nineteen years after I first set foot on stage, I won an award. Winning Best Club Comedian at the Chortle Awards should have felt like a life highlight, and I am certainly grateful to the three colleagues who congratulated me afterwards. But the whole experience was bizarre, not least being nominated in a year where I had spent most of it touring, once more seeing  all  of the great club comics ignored, and perhaps most of all being ushered into a room for an interview with a woman who neither took notes nor recorded and opened with the question “So club comedy. Is that where you go around on your own performing solo gigs?”  Among the people presenting awards was comedy genius Joey Essex, and relentless gag thief Bobby Davro.  Nonetheless, I haven’t won anything since the 1981 Croydon Under 12 chess championships, and so I was determined to enjoy the experience. That I did so is thanks to the something called booze, and a phone call to my parents in which I massively exaggerated the prestige of the award. And they fell for it.

5.   Being an uncle is great. Leo doesn’t appreciate my presents,and tends to time his loudest crying for when I am trying to watch University Challenge. Nonetheless the manner in which he defecates to his heart’s content, and gets very excited when there is a guy on the telly in an ill fitting white suit, suggests that he will undoubtedly become a man of substance.

6.      As usual my film of the year is the only one that I saw. “Pride” could easily have sunk without trace under a deluge of sub Priscilla campness.And there were one or two moments when it threatened to. Instead it was a wonderfully touching portrait of mid 80’s leftist activism which left me sobbing uncontrollably. Nice work.

7.     UKIP did well. It is a heartwarming story how these underdogs with virtually no financial backing have responded to being completely ignored in the media. They are the only people who are truly empathetic to  working people, and certainly the UKippers whom I know never shut up about their empathy for working class struggle.  Thanks to them I now know that I can cause flooding in Oxfordshire and traffic chaos on the M4. 2015 is going to be all kinds of fun.

8.        The day that Mahendra Singh Dhoni refused to condemn the racist chanting of Indian cricket fans against Moeen Ali, was the day that I could not with any conscience support India against England anymore. What a cowardly bellend that man is.

9.         The comedy highlight was the charity gig for  http://standagainstviolence.co.uk/ at the Comedy Store. The booking of Daniel Kitson as MC ensured a sell out crowd, and he was really very good indeed. If you get a chance to see this talented playwright, do take it. Despite his theatrical background, he proved more than a match for any of the more conventional comics. Nonetheless thanks to Jon Richardson, Kerry Godliman, Omid Djalili, and Terry Alderton for their outstanding help. A superb night.

10.         And so to my actual highlight of the year. Brain of London is a brutal competition involving World Champions, National Champions, Mastermind and Brain of Britain winners. Last year I was two blunders away from knocking Kevin Ashman out to reach the final 4.  Instead I could only mournfully regret what might have been. This year there were no regrets. I knocked Mark Grant out in Round 1 – an extraordinary man who despite having been brought up in Australia is the current Brain of Britain. My luck held firm in the 2nd round and I found myself in the semi finals once more. In the final round of the semi  I needed to answer all four of the following to reach the final.

Who wrote prolifically during an 11-year period in the Bastille, churning
out 11 novels, 16 novellas, 2 volumes of essays, a diary and 20 plays?

What was the unofficial term for individuals, typically but not exclusively Jews, who were denied permission to emigrate abroad by the authorities of the former Soviet Union?

What was the winner of the British Association of Toy Retailers ‘Toy of
the Year’ in 1998, winning again with a ‘babies’ version the following
year and then making another comeback to win again in 2012?

Oxygen was discovered independently of Joseph Priestley by Carl
Wilhelm Scheele, in what Northern European university city?

Luck, such a big part of quizzing, was in. And I reached the final. I didn’t win – Kevin Ashman and Dr. Ian Bayley finished ahead of me as one might expect. But to be mixing it with the elite was my uber nerdish highlight of the year.

Have a lovely 2015 X

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White Van Man.

Never mind a week, it seems that a few days is a very long time in politics. This time last week Emily Thornberry must have thought of her trip to Rochester is little more than a dispiriting window dressing exercise to support the Labour candidate in an utterly unwinnable seat. One ill-advised tweet later, her political world has caved in as the world and his wife lead the charge to get behind the values of “White Van Man”. It has been a triumph for UKIP, a catastrophe for Labour, and particularly for Ed Miliband. Watching him try and explain the respect he feels when he sees a white van, reminded me of my distant closeted past, trying to explain to boozed up friends what my perfect woman looked and sounded like.. I sounded unconvincing and ridiculous. Miliband sounded far worse.

It was a stupid tweet. MP’s should really know better. However it was by no means the crime of the century and it is emblematic of the complete vacuum at the heart of Labour politics, that not one of them could muster up the skills to mount any kind of defence. I didn’t even see the white van as an issue. As a man whose boiler, plumbing, electrics and car go frequently on the blink, I am a man whose existence is utterly dependent on hardworking skilful people who drive a white van. I am sure I am not alone in not only refusing to look down on white van drivers, but seeing them as utterly invaluable.And often very hot.  The thing that got me was the England flags. Not the flag itself, I’m not by any means unpatriotic. Although I have always thought of myself as British first and English second, I don’t scoff at people who see their identity differently. It was the fact that there were three flags. Bit much perhaps? People of course are entitled to make their own decisions on how the front of their house is festooned. But surely people are also entitled to look at it and think “trying too hard”. Or “eyesore”.  We get it, you love England to the very core of your soul. Nothing wrong with that. But one flag would have done the trick, and allowed more natural light into the house.

Thornberry’s frankly idiotic mistake was to tweet without comment, thus allowing anyone to apply their own motives to it. Maybe the tweet was done with the snobbish contempt of an archetypal Islingtonite out of touch with working class aspirations. Maybe it was done with the resigned air of a Labour canvasser wondering what on earth would ever make a triple flag man vote Labour. It is likely that we will never know. But let’s for the moment assume that it’s the former…..

If it is the former, then I’m afraid it seems to mirror the crude class based  “punching down” that I have increasingly noticed in club comedy in the last few years. I am fully aware of my cosseted public school educated background, where Mummy and Daddy have always been there for me,and it means that I bristle at broad sweeps made by some comedians at sections of society less cosseted than myself. Some of the things I have heard said about Greggs, Lidl, Aldi, their customers, and the homeless,  would shame the Bullingdon Club. I have heard  a routine about sterilising “scallies”, another where the word “vermin” was used, another using “scum” and any number about people who have the audacity to choose trackies as their leisure wear. Heaven forbid that we ever aim our punches is a more upwardly direction. I’m not for censorship, and I’m aware that somebody could probably forensically destroy my material. I do believe though that if Emil Thornberry’s tweet was from a dark place of nasty, out of touch condescension, then it is part of a wider culture that many comedians are actively contributing to.

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It’s been a month………….

It has been a month since I last blogged. Quite a lot has happened in that month, so here goes.

1. I have finished another radio series. It’s called Paul Sinha’s History Revision and it is an attempt at trying to be humorous about the incidents of genocide, war and slavery that have led us to where we are now. It starts on Radio 4 1830 on Wednesday November 26th, and runs for four weeks. I hope you like it.

2. I tweeted a joke. And it went properly viral and at the last count was retweeted 6,279 times. That was a strange day, having the joke stolen, being accused of stealing it, and also having it retweeted by some accounts which were clearly supporters of ISIS. I’m not a supporter of ISIS, and find many of their views uncomfortably homophobic.

3. Comedian Andrew Lawrence had his “Andrew Lawrence” moment. Personally I don’t care about his politics, much as I disagree with him. He is entitled to his views, I am entitled to find them trite and simplistic. I do care that he has created  a category called “ethnic comedians”, and I do care that he is not being entirely honest. The industry including the BBC has treated him very, very well. He used to have his face on the side of Edinburgh taxi cabs. If you are not quite the flavour of the month that you once were (and Andrew has been a quite brilliant comedian in the past), it seems rather ungrateful to lash out. Also every comedian, regardless of ethnicity, is entitled to use their background as a basis for their comedy. Interesting to see where this one goes. One thing is for sure, a lot of his new found fans won’t really get his exquisitely florid use of English if they do see him live. Reading their comments, I have never been prouder to be a Libtard.

4. I went to Rome. A quick fleeting visit, I was utterly overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. Ever since I heard of Stendhal syndrome http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndrome , I have wondered if such an over reaction is possible. Rome was perhaps the closest I have come.

5. I went to the European Quizzing Championships in Bucharest. Bucharest does not have anywhere near the beauty of Rome. It does have much cheaper beer.For the purposes of a superbly run quiz tournament, this was far more important.  I finished 18th in the individuals which was slightly better than usual. I was part of an England B quartet who were valiant runner up in a Cup competition. The best result of the weekend though was the pairs in which The Governess and I finished 7th in Europe, an agonising one point behind the pair in 5th.  The number of times I looked at Anne and thought “How did you know that ?” was matched by the number of times she did the same to me. And that is what good pairs quizzing is meant to be like. A great finish to an absolutely memorable weekend. A week on, my liver still hurts.

6.  I have two tour dates this week. Runcorn on Friday has pretty much sold out. Manchester has most definitely not. Not quite sure why the sales are sluggish in what has been a refreshingly decent selling tour. But they are. Please help !

http://contactmcr.com/whats-on/24493-paul-sinha-is-a-stand-up-comedian/

Much love x

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National Coming Out Day. My tales.

Friends

I had always known. Even as a kid  it felt as natural a part of me as loving cricket and singing along to Boney M. I felt confused and frustrated that it was me who was burdened with feelings for my schoolmates that I just had to keep silent about. I just assumed that as I met more women the feelings would kinda dissolve. For so many people that I know, feelings for the same sex just disappeared in adulthood. Not for me. The first people I ever came out to were my two best mates from school. Despite the fact that in 1987 attitudes were a lot more severe than now, they reacted with calmness. A degree of surprise sure. But fundamentally they were calm. I think their attitude was “I’m not sure what you want us to do with this information”

This calmness was pretty much the story of my 6 1/2 years at medical school. Although I had a complex relationship with the closet. My closest friends knew, my less close friends didnt. Numerous drunken fumblings with women, clumsy attempts to exorcise the gayness or at least produce something that felt like genuine bisexuality, threw people off the scent. The only friend who reacted badly to the news was Pankaj Maini. He refused to engage with me, lest he caught something nasty. He is no doubt a senior doctor somewhere. I hope for his patients’ sake that he has grown up. It soon became apparent, that the closet door was becoming impractical. Every time I came out to someone, they would say “Oh that? Yeah I knew that”, rather deflating the pomposity of my prepared statement.

So in the end I found a simple way to get the whole issue over and done with. Me and my friends had a house party. My room at the time was bedecked with posters of a popular and talented rock band called Take That. Despite the fact that their musical talent was the equal of the greatest bands, most of these posters displayed them in a variety of states of undress. There was no room for misinterpretation. The owner of this bedroom could only be an immature teenage girl or a truly tragic gay man. The knowing smiles of quite a few of the guests filled me with a sense of massive relief. I didnt have to pretend anymore. It was out there.

Family

When my sister invited me up to Warwick University for a disco of some sort, I knew I was going to do the deed. I knew that she was the most socially liberal person imaginable. I tried to work out if there was any way this could go wrong. I just couldn’t see it. Nonetheless I needed plenty of drinks to summon up the courage. Then in a moment I can barely recollect now I said

“There’s something I need to tell you. I really like Take That. I mean I really,really like them”

“Oh cool. I hadnt guessed. I don’t think you should tell Mum and Dad though”

Well there was never any danger of that happening. If I was that terrified of coming out to my sister, there was no way I was going to confront my parents. They just wouldnt understand. It would crush them, and their social standing in polite Bengali circles would go to shit. I simply wasnt going to do it to them.

Then one morning in 1994 , my Mum rang. There was panic in her voice. “Somebody has rung me up and said that you are gay, and that you are dating Simon”

This one I do remember as clearly as though it were today. I am no clearer to this day which of my friends thought this would be a funny prank. I dont suppose I will ever find out. It is darkly amusing now that my mate Simon, a relentless womaniser, was included in this. But I was totally,utterly crushed. I hung up. And I cried. Primaeval feral tears. Someone had ripped from me the right to tell my story to my Mum in my own way. I went home that night. And we both wept. She desperately didnt want it to be true. I desperately wanted her to understand that it wasn’t just true, that it was always going to be true and that no number of drunken fumblings with women was gonna change that. There was no anger. But there was immense sadness. And we just never talked about it again for years.

That was 1994. Eleven years passed. Somehow I was carving a career as an openly gay comedian without my Dad knowing just what it was I talked about on stage. That is the advantage of not being that successful. Then, one Friday in 2005, I was in Manchester reading a copy of the Manchester Evening News. And there was a massive photo of my face underneath the headline “The Only Gay Bengali Doctor in the Village”.   I remember that evening having a drink with the brilliant comedian Steve Hughes. And my Dad ringing me up saying “When you are back, I need to have a chat”  And when the call finished I turned to Steve and said “He knows”  “Good luck mate” he replied.

For the next two days I felt physically sick. When on the Monday evening I went over to my folks , I still felt physically sick. Nothing in my Mum’s eyes gave me a clue. My Dad took me upstairs. And for twenty minutes the chat was as bland as could be. Then, the bombshell.

“Me and your Mum we were having a chat about the future. I used the phrase ‘When Paul gets married’ and she said ‘You dont know everything about Paul’    What don’t I know ? ”

The next fifteen minutes contained excruciating silence. So he helped me out “Are you gay ?”

“Yes”

“Ah right.  I did wonder why you’d never had a girlfriend. Ok. Now I understand”

My Dad is an old fashioned, Asian alpha male patriarch. But he is also a man of the world. I think that is something we forget about our parents. They have kinda seen it all. Of course they don’t actively hope that their children are gay. But most of them are mature enough to realise that it is just a natural state of being, not a rebellious choice. By the time I eventually stumbled out of the closet to my Dad, he had seen other marriages come to an end due to bad decision making, misogynist husbands, illness and sadly death. Perhaps in his eyes, being gay was not the worst of calamities. Yes it hasn’t always been easy, not least when a slew of reviews in national newspapers in 2006 meant I hadnt just come out to him, I had come out to the entire nation. And that included his entire social circle. But nonetheless the fact remains that coming out, even in the fashion that I did, can be massively empowering.

I realise that not everyone has a positive tale to tell. Fello gay quizzer CJ de Mooi tells a horrific story on the subject of coming out. http://cjdemooi.tumblr.com/post/36358282307

Nonetheless coming out is your chance of taking control of how the people that you love find out. The closet for me was an anxiety ridden place, living in constant fear of who was saying what to who. Now I have parents who have not only met my boyfriend, but love him to bits and take great pleasure in overfeeding him. It would be smug and arrogant of me to expect every story to be the same. But there has never been a better social climate to come out. In society now, homophobes are considered to be the ones to laugh at.

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British Bill of Rights

Finally it seems, David Cameron has seen sense and promised to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Brilliant. We are not human after all. We are better than that. We are British. It is a golden opportunity to enshrine new modern laws into our constitution. I can’t see much if chance that the Tories will listen to my ideas – we have about as much in common as Dapper Laughs and Stella Creasy MP – but here are my ideas.

1. You only have the right to call yourself “the silent majority” if you have any statistical analysis to back it up.

2. You have to prove that you have known someone for at least three years before you are allowed to describe your conversation with them as “banter”

3. You have the right to believe and state out loud that you could do a better job than the experienced professional currently managing your football club. You are wrong. But you have the right.

4.  You have the right to vote on X Factor. You have the right to vote in a general election. But not both. You make your choice.

5. In your lifetime, there is a limit of three on the number of things you can blame on the PC brigade. Use your choices wisely.

6. Chosen by a panel of experts,  200 classic songs are to be ringfenced for which it is illegal to hire a whiny singer with an acoustic guitar to do a piss poor cover version for an even worse TV advert. I’ll start the ball rolling.  1. Life On Mars 2. Oliver’s Army

7.  The selection of topics on Mock the Week is to be created in a completely random fashion.

8.   You have the right to decline the Ice Bucket Challenge and not be ridiculed.

9.    The responsibility for rehabilitating Paul Gascoigne will fall to the family of the very next person who tweets a Gazza/fishing rod joke.

10.    Every time anyone retweets praise, £50 will be transferred from their bank account to  a charity. You have the right to choose that charity before you retweet.

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