Hardeep Singh Kohli: You-topia

As the lights go down, the audience are met with a film playing on a screen, with a voiceover asking various people of diverse identities what utopia means to them. They reflect with various answers – ‘a level of wellbeing’, ‘heaven’, and ‘total equality and bliss’. The audience is given a few seconds to contemplate this, and then Kohli bursts on stage in his trademark turban and tartan, with a few quips which include advising the audience to ‘enjoy the UK til March.’ This sets the scene and frames what is to follow - an hour of political satire interspersed with family anecdotes, nostalgia and Kohli’s quest to save the world.

An hour of political satire interspersed with family anecdotes, nostalgia and Kohli’s quest to save the world

Kohli is undoubtedly skilled, as with a deft stage presence he holds easy and relaxed eye contact with the audience for the duration of his performance. We hear some heartbreaking narrations of the discrimination Kohli faced as a young brown boy growing up in urban Glasgow, juxtaposed with nostalgic tales of ice cream hierarchies. Kohli is deeply political, and the show serves as an exploration of how he believes we will achieve the you-topia we are all looking for. Identifying 3 areas of society which need to be addressed – wealth, gender and race – Kohli delves into each facet with unabashed, honest comicality which both lighten the topic and showcase the political layers which combine to compose this bisexual, atheist wonder.

I did feel a discomfort over Kohli’s constant use of jokes at the expense of people of colour. As a white person, I understand that it can be problematic to comment on how non-white people utilise what could be considered casual racist humour. However rather than Kohli reclaiming these gags, there was a distinct feeling that they were laid on to allow the largely white, middle-class audience an opportunity to laugh at racist jokes in a safe space. Featuring abudant stereotypes like ‘we all look the same’, ‘we may have small dicks but we’ll provide you financial security’ and more, I felt it downplayed what Kohli was otherwise highlighting exceptionally well. He is talented; he is funny; he is deeply interesting and captivating and using race as a mechanism of humour in this way disempowered the serious aspects to his message. How can we take seriously Kohli highlighting that black people under 18 are 9 times more likely to go to prison, when in the next breath he’s commenting on how brown people run all the corner shops and that he is part of ISIS.

Conversely, Kohli addressed the gender imbalance in society exceptionally well. There was no dilution of this – there were no sexist jokes to showcase how far society had gone in its attempt to subjugate women - Kohli just told it like it is: that he wants a fairer world, which can’t happen when patriarchy exists. Educating the audience about the gender pay gap via the medium of refresher treats was one highlight of this, which used humour to address a serious societal injustice. Kohli was brazen in his ridicule of elements of society which exist to subjugate women, and Kohli hypothesises that this happens because women are the superior sex and that’s why men feel they need to control them.

This hour went tremendously fast, with Kohli delivering a profound, punchy plan for a socialist you-topia which would be fair for all. Comedy with a genuine socialist twist, I’d love to see this performance a little more polished in terms of time (Kohli relied quite heavily on his tech to steer him through his content). The show could also be elevated by relying less heavily on racial stereotypes for jokes – it cheapened the evident talent Kohli has; he can be more innovative and challenging about these topics without relying on easy targets.

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The Blurb

The host of BBC Radio 4's Sketchtopia and regular on BBC One's Question Time and This Week, follows up his acclaimed 2017 hit with a brand-new show mixing his trademark 'worldly wit and fabulous punchlines' **** (Fest). 'Immensely funny' (Daily Express). 'Consistently thought-provoking' **** (VoiceMag.uk). 'Something quite special... in-between the laughter are stories of genuine power' ***** (BroadwayBaby.com).