In August, most British comedians move up to Edinburgh. It’s a huge part of the comedy year – several comedians will spend the months preceding to try out their new material and hone it, deliver it once a night at the Fringe, and then spend the next few months reusing that material wherever they can until it’s time to start the cycle again.
Paul Sinha has, in the past, done a similar pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a renowned sports fanatic, though, he chose to forego that experience this year in order to attend the London Olympics. And that means that, in a month where London comedy is usually running on depleted stock, we get his new show, “Last Christmas”.
Now the last time I saw Sinha live was at Comedy Camp, back when the bar on Archer Street that is now an identikit wine bar was a gay venue called Barcode and had regular comedy nights every Tuesday. This was probably at least ten years ago now, but Sinha’s relaxed, self-deprecating warmth hasn’t changed.
Introduced by a cheesy acoustic version of Wham!’s Yuletide hit, Sinha – an inveterate quizzer, ranked 20th in the UK and now a regular on ITV1’s The Chase – treats us to some trivia about the pop tune, before revealing that has no basis for the rest of the show: instead, it is about his own last Christmas, during which he found himself joining his family on a jeep trip through the Himalayas and genuinely thought he was going to die.
What follows is an exploration of what is necessary to have led a satisfying life, and around that hang various anecdotes from Sinha’s own life.
Split into three segments (work in a job you love, do something brave and find love), Sinha crafts each so that the hour flows effortlessly from incident to incident. Whether talking about himself or others, we are invited to laugh along with – rather than at – people who, like us, are just a little bit rubbish at doing the right thing.
The general good-natured tone, of course, makes the odd spike of venom all the more effective: an early crack about Shrien Dewani is one of many hilariously caustic barbs.
Last Christmas is a joyous hour of comedy led by a man whose warmth and good humour is something to treasure. For me, the story of how Sinha – who used to describe himself as having been single since 1991 – came to meet his new boyfriend last year is a highlight. Starting off with his being startled by a gorilla in a Swiss zoo, Sinha takes us via an O2 shop to The Chase, an online Countdown forum and an uproarious joke about Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to 1980s British industry. Not only is it a frequently hilarious section, it is a measure of how engaged the audience is with him that the news that he is no longer single generates a warm, enthusiastic and affectionate round of applause from the audience. And that’s something I was more than happy to join in with, even though inside I was thinking, “Bastard. He was the only gay man I knew of who had been single longer than I have.”