HE HAS done sell-out tours, won national awards and built up a fanbase of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide – comedian Paul Chowdhry has come a long way since starting out by performing to just five people.
The British Asian comic, one of the most popular acts of the past decade, finished his PC’s World Live 2015 tour on November 13 and said there was no substitute for hard work.
Chowdhry, the host of Channel 4’s Stand Up For The Week, told Eastern Eye: “It’s about the real hard grind; you don’t see that side of it.
“You don’t see me in a club performing in front of five people, doing jokes and going through years of driving up and down motorways performing in different places. It’s a hard game, now there’s people who just stick up a YouTube video.”
The 41-year-old, who grew up watching American stand-up legends Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin and Bill Hicks, first started performing in front of people in his early 20s.
“I thought: ‘You know what, I’m going to try it and see if I can do five minutes’. It was more of a hobby – you don’t realise you can make a living out of it.”
The 2013 LAFTA funniest stand-up award-winner added: “Asian people think ‘Where’s the money in it?’ You don’t have money in this game for a long time.”
Chowdhry said the current crop of YouTube performers need to work harder if they want to have any chance of succeeding as stand-up comedians.
“They’re not stand-ups. You have to go in the clubs and it really takes a long time; you have to work on it.
“When I’m on tour, I have 20 minutes of new material and a minute or two of good jokes in there; then I have to rewrite those jokes. It takes a long time to write a good set, you can’t just go out there.
“I’ve seen YouTubers do stand-up and they’re up there with notes and stuff; you can’t edit that. When I’m on stage I can’t go back and say: ‘That line’s wrong and I have to say that again’.
This is live and it’s the purest art form.” Chowdhry uses social media to interacts with his fans and occasionally uploads videos, but it will never replace live performances, he said.
“It’s a great thing to do and a great way of interacting with your fans. But it’s not going to replace you coming out to do a live show with your friends; how can you replace that?
“You can’t. I do jokes sometimes through videos, but it’s nothing like the real thing, when you’re in the room watching someone.” Chowdhry also likes to upload videos of himself mocking trolls who send him death threats.
“We all get death threats from idiots online, but I’m not going to sit there and start crying: ‘Oh my God!’
“I’m going to make a joke about it. I put out a troll video and expose them. I must have done 15-20 videos and around 10 million people saw that. I’m trying to just stop people from being idiots online.”
Known for using his Indian background and not holding back on jokes over race, Chowdhry conceded he is unfairly “tarnished” for doing too many racist jokes.
“As long as it is not inciting any hatred, then that’s a hard line to cross as well,” he said.
“My last tour was called What’s Happening White People? People thought it’s all about race, but if you watch that DVD, only 60 per cent of it is about race.
“There’s stuff about chatting up women, going out, all kinds of stuff. But because the title has ‘white people’ in it, people think it’s all about race. You get tarnished with a certain brush sometimes. I’ve got stuff on 5p carrier bags for instance, so it’s not all about race.”
As a veteran in the comedy scene, Chowdhry also does his bit to help the younger generations of British Asian comedians flourish.
“I have some of them on my shows if they’re up-and-coming. I’ll always give time to people who want advice.
“I give the younger stand-ups advice for whatever it’s worth. I wouldn’t say I’m a Mr Miyagi, but I tell them it’s all about getting up on stage, and that’s the grind.”
He added: “It’s great to have diversity and everyone involved. Laughing is colour blind; if you’re funny no one thinks he’s funny because of the colour of the skin.
“No one thinks Eddie Murphy is funny because he’s black, Eddie Murphy is just funny. Comedy transcends racial barriers, it breaks down racial barriers.”
Paul Chowdhry’s PC’s World Live is available on DVD from November 30.