Comedian wins major award

25 May 2004

— One of the ways award-winning Inder Manocha handles hecklers when he is onstage doing stand-up comedy is this response: "Sir, if I embarrass you it's called comedy. If you embarrass me it's racism."

The retort works because of Mr. Manocha's diverse heritage - and its play on political correctness.

A member of the Baha'i Faith and born of Indian and Iranian parents, Mr. Manocha is currently winning rave reviews for his multiethnic comedy, which is popular here in the racially diverse United Kingdom.

Mr. Manocha yesterday capped off his recent string of successes by winning an award at a major award ceremony that celebrates diversity and excellence in the media.

Inder Manocha, 36, who turned his back on a career in psychotherapy just four years ago, was named best comedian at last night's EMMA -- Ethnic Multicultural Media Achievement Awards -- ceremony.

The BBC2 television channel will screen the award ceremony on 30 May 2004.

As an award winner, Mr. Manocha was in high-profile company. Other recipients of awards included actor Tom Cruise, who accepted his with a videophone message, and the star of hit movie "Bend it Like Beckham" and TV show "ER," Parminder Nagra, who arrived from the United States to attend the ceremony and receive an award.

The EMMA awards aim to reward professionals who have made a contribution to the cultural diversity of Britain and have maintained "high human values."

Manocha's interest in performing comedy began at an early age, but until recently it had remained a hobby.

"I had done some comedy while at university and the interest had always been there," he says.

"Then, after many years of studying and working as a therapist, I began writing the occasional sketch and speaking at friends' weddings -- and someone said that I should really try stand-up. And I did."

The most grueling part followed, with five-minute slots in comedy clubs where audiences are notoriously hard to please.

"But if they like you, they invite you back -- for ten minutes!" laughs Mr. Manocha.

At the 2003 Edinburgh Festival, Manocha was invited to perform twice at the "Best of the Fest Show" and then for the show's whole run at London's Bloomsbury Theatre.

In February 2004 he made his successful debut at a top venue, London's Comedy Store, and he returns for more shows this year.

The inspiration for his comedy, he says, stems from growing up in a multiethnic Baha'i family in north London.

"My father is Indian from a Sikh background, my mother is Zoroastrian Persian, and I had a very English education at Oxford," Mr. Manocha says.

"So it was natural for me to do a kind of cross-cultural satire. I know both British and Asian cultures very well and I enjoy the way their idiosyncrasies play off each other.

"The Baha'i teachings on unity and cultural diversity inspire the comedy, and then the high ethical standards of the Faith set the parameters," he says.

"Obviously when you're up there on the stage, you want to make people laugh and it could be so easy to mock or denigrate others or resort to bad language for a quick and easy response.

"But being a Baha'i calls you constantly to moderation and respect --that's a wonderful thing but a very challenging thing in this environment."

From a Baha'i viewpoint, he says, laughter plays an important part in the spiritual life of the individual.

"Often, a highly spiritually developed person will have a great sense of humor," Mr. Manocha says.

"I suppose it's about having a right approach to life and keeping things in perspective. The Baha'i teachings talk about joy giving us wings, and laughter being spiritual relaxation. I think giving people the opportunity to laugh together is an immensely uniting and joyful thing."

Mr. Manocha's unique approach has also led him to enjoy success in Durban, South Africa, where he has now appeared twice -- at the "East Coast Radio Ha Comedy Showcase" and in the "India's Kings of Comedy" show.

"Durban is about 80 percent Asian, and they got all the jokes," he says.

"Multiracial comedy bills are relatively new there and they are very much trying to promote it and make it work as a symbol of the new South Africa."

(For the winners' list see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/showbiz/3744147.stm.)

Note: The EMMA Awards ceremony will be broadcast on Sunday 30 May on the BBC2 television channel at 2145hrs GMT.

Report by Rob Weinberg.

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