Nish Kumar says his ‘experience of being a brown man in UK’ shifted after 9/11

Comedian Nish Kumar has said his “experience of being a brown man in Britain shifted” following the 9/11 attacks in New York.

The 38-year-old, known for hosting satirical comedy programme The Mash Report and Late Night Mash, reflected on his experiences of racism and the collapse of the Twin Towers when he was 16.

In the Big Issue’s Letter To My Younger Self column, he said: “I felt that my experience of being a brown man in Britain shifted (after 9/11).

“My dad sold fabrics and went on a business trip to New York three weeks after, though we all begged him not to go.

“He had a terrible time at JFK (airport), he was pulled into an interrogation room and they were chucking out fabric samples all over the table.

“It definitely changed something in the culture for people who look like me, and we were a Hindu family, we’re not even a Muslim family.

“So, what it must have been like for Muslim families is unfathomable to me.”

Kumar also reflected on the people he looked up to when he was growing up.

He said: “I would much rather have them be my role models than Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, the most prominent British-Asians in the country right now.”

Podcast Show
Coco Khan and Nish Kumar at the Podcast Show (Lucy North/PA)

The stand-up comic cited fellow comedians Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Nina Wadia and Kulvinder Ghir as his younger self’s heroes.

“Seeing them live brought about a seismic shift in my understanding of who was able to do comedy,” he said.

“But I still had no sense of what a career in comedy would have looked like and how I would have achieved that.”

The comedian said watching theatre productions at this age helped him understand Shakespeare and “blew my head wide open”.

He said: “A very enterprising teacher of mine who believed that culture should be for everybody discovered a scheme where students could get cheap theatre tickets.

“So at 16 I started to go and see West End shows for about five quid.

Graham Norton Show – London
Nish Kumar has written a letter to his 16-year-old self (Matt Crossick/PA)

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

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

“It just blew my head wide open.

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

“I remember seeing Tim West do King Lear.

“We were bored by Shakespeare in class and I hadn’t read it. And it was amazing, we even understood all of it and I don’t know how that was possible.”

Reflecting on economic barriers that face young people wanting to get into the arts, he said: “If we allow the arts to become purely the playground of the privileged, that will leave us all poorer.”

Ending his letter, Kumar spoke about life in 2024 and said: “In a lot of ways we’re in a much more evolved place than when I was 16.

“I’d say that there are certainly things that my younger self will be taken aback by.”

Read Nish Kumar’s full Letter To My Younger Self in this week’s Big Issue, out now.