He has faced some of the toughest audiences in the world and remained undaunted, yet top stand-up Paul Chowdhry tells CHRIS LONGHURST that the prospect of appearing at The Comedy Bunker always generates a few butterflies
THERE is a fine art to interviewing and any reporter worth their salt will tell you it does not take much to upset the delicate balance between subject and note-taker. At no time has this been better exemplified than when I agreed to chat to rising star of comedy Paul Chowdhry while he was being filmed by Comedy Bunker MC Joel Sanders on his digicam.
The premise seemed harmless enough when it was first put to me; conduct a real interview with Paul while he acts up a bit for the camera and you can then print the story as a preview for the show.
The film is due to be shown ahead of Paul's stage act at the Comedy Bunker on November 6 and will feature the man himself walking the streets of Ruislip and reflecting on how appearing there represents the pinnacle of his career.
"But I'm not very good on camera!" I protested to Joel, only to be assured: "You won't even know I'm there!"
Of course, the opposite proved to be the case as I was forced to endure a number of retakes and reposing of questions, while all the time Paul would chip in with the devastatingly sharp observations for which he is fast becoming famous.
I felt slightly out of kilter throughout the entire interview as it seemed there was a joke going on that I was not privy to, which made thinking of the next question all the more challenging.
Fortunately Paul is an incredibly laid-back character and was not fazed at all as I pitched question after question, all the time conscious that my every move was being captured on film.
Things had started as they meant to go on as Paul sauntered into the room playing rap music, calling me Rupert Murdoch and urging me to "arks me anything bredda!".
Despite this I managed to extract a fair bit of information, beginning with the path that led to him establishing himself as a stand-up of substance and style in 1998.
He told me: "I remember getting up on stage at university and doing five minutes, which went very well. I think everyone has the ability to be a stand-up, but what makes you successful is being funny.
"Anyone can be taught how to write a joke, deliver a line, manage timing and remember routines, but you simply cannot teach people to be funny. It is something you either have naturally, or you don't.
"Having said that, it is not enough just to know you are funny, you have to polish the techniques I already mentioned. I've seen some very funny comedians shot down because they couldn't handle hecklers or forgot what they were talking about."
His pursuit of laughs has seen him travel to Hong Kong, the Gulf, Amsterdam, Germany and South Africa; in 2003 he was the first British act to perform at the Caribbean Comedy Festival in Trinidad.
So far it has been a busy year for Paul, recording three TV specials for the Paramount Comedy channel and taking part in MTV's first Young God's of Comedy event shown on MTV Base.
He grew up idolising comedians such as Richard Prior, George Carlin and Sam Kinison, but also British stars including Morecambe and Wise and, slightly controversially, Bernard Manning. I couldn't let this last revelation pass without additional comment and asked how a young Asian man could admit to finding funny someone whose act was largely about poking fun at ethnic minorities?
He said: "I honestly didn't find him offensive. I know there are Asians and black people who hated him because the next day at school all the jokes he told were repeated back to them. However, I tell a lot of jokes about different races in my act today and it would be hypocritical of me to say they are off-limits simply because a white person is telling them.
"I've been asked about this on Tonight With Trevor McDonald and said I didn't think it was fair that as an Asian it is somehow all right for me to do funny accents and yet if a white person does an Asian impression they are vilified."
Paul has also been quoted as saying it is time to move away from stereotypical images, no matter who is portraying them, and show comedy to be simply 'British' rather than 'Asian' or 'white'.
While he is keen to see tolerance for all races, Paul still feels there are some places where the desire to be politically correct can go over the top.
He said: "I look at people like Sanjeev Bhaskar, who is in Spamalot in the West End appearing as King Arthur, and while I am pleased for him, I am not sure the idea of an Asian in the role works.
"When you are playing a character who history shows to have been of a particular ethnic background, I don't think there is anything wrong with choosing actors of the same type."
When asked what he is looking forward to ahead of his latest visit to Ruislip, Paul says: "What can you say about Ruislip which has not already been said, eh?
"I'm really looking forward to it. I've got some new material lined up and love the way you can interact with the Bunker crowd. Ihear the place has been done up since I was last there and now has air-conditioning and double-glazing.
"It's a shame you won't be able to hear the trains go by any more as it lent my comedy a certain edge you can't get anywhere else!"
* Spend An Evening With Paul Chowdhry on Thursday, November 6 from 8.45pm (doors open at 8.15pm).
The Comedy Bunker is at Ruislip Golf Centre, The Fairway, Ickenham Road, West Ruislip.
Tickets cost £12 if you buy online - www.comedybunker.co.uk - or £14 on the door.