Let’s state the obvious. In the 21st century, almost everybody is desperately trying to be politically correct and socially conscious, bringing to the surface and trying to mend everything that is structurally ill in our society. Racism, identity politics and oppression of certain groups by others is what news portals centre around, and since they surround us in every possible channel, rather often these stories and discussions become vague. Their presentation developed its own clichés and patterns and it rarely feels like there is something new in the mainstream narrative.
Well, Kai Samra’s autobiographical performance might surprise you. It is not mainstream, therefore lacks the usual clichés. It is a shamelessly personal, fresh and intelligently funny. It is about all the aforementioned social issues, yes, because they inescapably determined his life, but his way of presentation is brand new. This is a story with a soul and a fearless voice about family and finding yourself in a world that does not seem to favour you too much.
As Samra walks on the stage in his sweatpants and with messy hair, you know he is authentic. And he lives up to these expectations – this hour is one without taboos, confronting them as if they were harmless little creatures. If you do not dare to do this in fear of political correctness, Samra happily does it for you.
When anybody asks him where he is from he says the UK. He was born and raised here. But then the next question comes – ‘no, where are your parents from?’ This conversation sums up Samra’s experience as a British Asian quite accurately. He talks about being brought up by a single mother in poverty, worshipping his older brother Ari, who managed to get full scholarship to a school just to find out he was ‘neither white, neither rich, neither posh enough’ to be there, just to drop out and completely disappear out of sight from his family, vanishing from one day to another. Following the years of losing his hero, and suffering through domestic violence, Samra escaped home and ended up on the streets. Then Centrepoint charity directed him towards the stand-up industry, just for him to feel exactly how Ari felt in the school where he did not find his place. Samra puts a mirror to anybody who claims that they see no colour, claiming that colour, race and ethnicity are alive and well, in schools and in the entertainment industry and everywhere. Whoever says otherwise is only an indication of the urgency of the matter. After dropping out of stand-up comedy for these reasons, ironically enough, he got back on track thanks to an awkward and rather controversial interview with UKIP leader Tommy Robinson.
Samra’s performance is a little rough around the edges, that cannot be denied. He often repeats himself. He uses video clips on a projector, but they are not as smoothly incorporated into the performance as they should be (except the very last one, which is just perfectly placed). However he is confident and his cheeky, light-hearted honesty and the bold humour he tackles personal dramas and social anomalies with, compensate for it and leaves the audience with a bittersweet feeling, shaken but moved, and some great jokes to cite.
Kai Samra – Underclass is on at Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Three (Venue 33)
At 19:00 until 25th August
Book tickets here
Image: Jonathan Birch