In this exclusive article for Comedy Blogedy, Nish Kumar ruminates on his most niche obsessions…
We’ve all got a niche, be it a musician, a movie or a variation of pornography. For the record mine three would be:
- Bob Dylan
- Annie Hall
- Argumentative – there’s no actual sex involved, a man and a woman just sit together and have a heated discussion. It gets pretty steamy.
I have pursued these niches, sometimes to the detriment of other areas of my life. My teenage years were spent, not kissing girls, but rather listening to countless hours of music about how great kissing girls was. Instead of seeking confirmation of this, I busied myself reading about the people who had created the music that I was obsessively listening to. I left school a virgin, but on the plus side I can tell you that George Harrison played bass on “Drive My Car”, and he modelled said bass line on the one from Otis Redding’s version of “Respect”. Stick that in your kissing pipe jocks! You may have had your afternoons of pashing in the schoolyard but I’m the one with the copy of Bob Dylan’s unreleased docudrama/shitfest Eat the Document! It’s really bad!
In this internet era of YouYube and Robocops it’s easier than ever to feed your niche. Websites and social media are incredible tools for performers to use to reach an audience. It’s vastly easier to track down obscure cultural artefacts than it was in my day. Let me tell you, young people these days have no idea the hardships we endured. I mean sure, we did have the internet, but it was dial up which took ages. Our mobiles phones were not “smart” in any sense, being as they were solely capable of telephoning people. Can you imagine? I mean my grandmother grew up in a village without even a radio to furnish them with goings on in the outside world, but once, my internet cut out while I was in the middle of downloading some Rolling Stones live tracks on Napster. So I think it’s fair to say I have suffered.
Unable as we were to simply google any piece of information that we could possibly conceive of, we were forced to trawl second hand CD fairs, in the hope of picking up Janis Joplin bootlegs and live recordings of Lou Reed farting into a dustbin in what was clearly a satirical attack on the Vietnam war. As a Simpsons obsessive, I had to go round my friend Matt’s house because he had Sky. As soon as the show ended we would immediately get out our episode guides to see what jokes we had missed, and then both pretend we understood the references to Solvent Green and Ross Perot.
I spent countless hours reading terrible biographies of Woody Allen (big news guys, apparently he is quite “neurotic”), while listening to every single song Cat Power ever recorded on a CD player that skipped every time someone in France coughed. These crappy tomes were the only portals into the worlds of these totemic figures and if you wanted You are Free you had to trawl through the dusty racks of HMV/Zavvi/Virgin/Fat Dan’s Media Emporium to get to it.
Now I’m not saying that those days were better. In fact they were significantly worse. I love the fact that I saw Tuneyards by complete fluke at a festival, and was able to immediately return home and buy the album that day. Now I can relive that extraordinary experience any time I want, by playing the album and then going outside, getting covered in mud and then taking a piss in a hedge. Wikipedia has consolidated all the salient information from those dreadful Woody Allen books and put it into one, easy to access webpage. I wouldn’t trade my days at CD fairs and my battered VHS of Grosse Pointe Blank for anything in the world but I’m savvy enough to know that things are way better now for young, aspiring nerds.
My only concern is that it’s almost too easy to disappear into your own niche. Spotify and Netflix have spent a huge amount of time and money cultivating complex algorithms designed to constantly keep feeding us more of what we want. Ostensibly, this should be a good thing. I can feast on culture that has been scientifically proved to be to my taste and never have to interact with anything that doesn’t fit into those parameters. I can kick back and relax, confident I’ll never have to know the difference between Justin Bieber and One Direction.
However, I’m increasingly uncertain that this is a good thing. If you eliminate the risk of ever coming across something you might dislike, we’ll lose the ability to dislike something in a proportionate and reasonable way. That’s surely part of the fun of ingesting culture. I can’t tell you how much pleasure the film Drive has given me. I mean, I hated every smug, trendy second of it, but so many of my friends enjoyed it and I took great pleasure in explaining to them why they were completely wrong and they did the same to me. Differences of opinion are part of what makes being a human interesting.
My other concern, is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to be surprised by something. There is a pure thrill to discovering something new, or expecting to hate something and finding yourself having to back down in the face of your own delight. I was in a trendy clothes shop, pretending I belonged there, when a song started playing that motivated me to run hurriedly over to the person behind the desk and demand the tell me who it was by (actually I used Shazaam, which I guess is the modern equivalent of this action). The band was called Against Me! and the song was called Fuckmylife666. It’s not something I would normally listen to, and there’s no formula in the world that would have calculated I would enjoy it. It’s the best thing I’ve heard in ages.
Niches are great, particularly when you find a new one.
Nish Kumar will be performing his show ‘Ruminations on the Nature of Subjectivity’ at the Edinburgh Fringe from 30th July – 24th August 2014, Pleasance Courtyard, 7:15pm (1 hour) 16+. Tickets
Photo Credit: Idil Sukan at Draw HQ