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Eshaan Akbar review – navigating the choppy waters of UK racial politics

The Londoner is argumentative, entertaining and full of bracing good sense as he catalogues his personal experiences of racism

“What’s your favourite racism?” With this question, Eshaan Akbar opens his debut touring show. The Londoner’s star is in the ascendant right now, with a role in Netflix’s Sex Education recently announced. The Pretender certainly showcases a comic able to navigate the choppy waters of UK racial politics, even if sometimes Akbar seems to be pointing in two directions at once.

The show offers an inventory of Akbar’s personal experiences of racism. Item one is a house party encounter, when our host is stung equally by the word “fat” and the word “Asian”. Cue a digression into the other identities, and forms of abuse, familiar to Akbar, a “lapsed Muslim” who’s also hard of hearing and fond of food. There’s a fine set piece about the four ways of emptying a crisp packet, and unimpressed remarks about white people’s lunches.

Item two finds the 38-year-old gigging to an audience of bigots in Essex, where Akbar is made to confront the seeming contingency of his own claim on Britishness. The experience triggers recollection of his father’s life as a Pakistani immigrant, and of an act of violent revenge Akbar père once took against a racist abuser. It leaves an unsavoury taste, that story. A pious screed about the significance of Rishi Sunak’s premiership, meanwhile, is not quite redeemed by its so-so punchline.

It’s a punchline though that usefully complicates simplifying racial narratives, and there’s more of that as the show goes on. The burden of representation weighs heavily on Akbar. He’s impatient with identity politics, uneasy with the label “person of colour”, and indignant that – after a row about racist accents – Apu got axed from The Simpsons.

He talks a lot of bracing good sense here, although it feels now and then at odds with what’s gone before. It can be offputtingly individualistic too, from a comic given to trumpeting his own accomplishments. But at least he’s got plenty to trumpet, a genial rapport with tonight’s lively crowd included. Akbar gives them lots to consider in this argumentative and entertaining hour.

Source: The Guardian