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Nish Kumar says his “experience as a black man in the UK” changed after 9/11

Nish Kumar says his “experience as a black man in the UK” changed after 9/11

Comedian Nish Kumar said his “experience as a black man in Britain changed” after the September 11 attacks in New York.

The 38-year-old, known for presenting satirical comedy shows such as The Mash Report and Late Night Mash, spoke about his experiences with racism and the collapse of the Twin Towers when he was 16 years old.

In his column “A Letter to My Younger Self” in the Big Issue, he said: “I felt like my experience as a black man in Britain had changed (after 9/11).”

“My father was selling fabric and going on a business trip to New York in three weeks, even though we all begged him not to go.

“He had a rough time at JFK, he was pulled into an interrogation room and they were throwing fabric samples on the table.

“It definitely changed something in the culture of people who looked like me, and we were a Hindu family, not even a Muslim family.

“So, what it was like for Muslim families is incomprehensible to me.”

Kumar also talked about the people he looked up to when he was growing up.

“I would rather have them as my role models than Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, the most prominent British Asians in the country at the moment,” he said.

Show podcast

Koko Khan and Nish Kumar on the podcast (Lucy North/PA)

The comedian cited fellow comedians Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Neena Wadia and Kalvinder Gher as heroes of his younger self.

“Seeing them live created a seismic shift in my understanding of who was capable of doing comedy,” he said.

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“But I still had no idea what a career in comedy was going to look like or how I was going to make it happen.”

The comedian said that watching theater productions at his age helped him understand Shakespeare and “opened my head wide.”

“One intrepid teacher who believed culture should be for everyone discovered a scheme where students could get cheap theater tickets,” he said.

“So at 16 I started going to see West End shows for like five guineas.

The Graham Norton Show - LondonThe Graham Norton Show - London

Nish Kumar wrote a letter to his 16-year-old self (Matt Krusek/PA)

“I used to go to the National Theater and Barbican all the time.

“Now I think it was an absolute privilege to have access to that.

“He blew my head wide open.

“If you put a group of 16-year-olds in front of something good, they'll get really into it.

“I remember seeing Tim West perform King Lear.

“We were bored with Shakespeare in class and I didn't read it. It was amazing, we understood it all and I don't know how that was possible.

Reflecting on the economic barriers facing young people who want to join the arts, he said: “If we allow the arts to become merely a playground for the privileged, that will make us all poorer.”

Concluding his message, Kumar spoke about life in 2024 and said: “In many ways, we are in a more developed place than when I was 16.

“I would say there are definitely things that my younger self would have been surprised about.”

Read Nish Kumar's full letter to my younger self in this week's big issue, out now.

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