Interview: Raul Kohli | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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As one of the few Asians to have grown up in Newcastle, comedian Raul Kohli is blessed with a worldview that upends ethnicity, culture and class, which has led to him becoming a recognised name in comedy. Alongside his achievements in stand-up, which include rave reviews for his shows at The Edinburgh Fringe and Leicester Comedy Festival, various comedy awards, as well as appearing in some of the biggest clubs around the world, Raul likes to write, act and do a bit of podcasting.

Combining his love of local history and his comedic talents, Rauls’ latest podcast Tyne Travel, A Comedian’s History Of The North-East, sees himself and co-host Mike Milligan enlighten listeners about the region’s lesser-known past. The popularity of their show has meant the pair are now running a live panel show, along with the author of The Northumbrians – Dan Jackson, at The Stand on Monday 18th September. They’ll be discussing all aspects of the North East History from before the Roman Conquest to the Tuxedo Princess while asking fundamentally what does it mean to be a North Easterner?

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into comedy.
I’m 31 and have been doing comedy for 11 years now. When I was 14 I used to stay up to watch Comedy Central or as it was then known Paramount @ the Comedy Store. I saw Jason Cook on it and realised people who sound like me can do this and then I saw Paul Choudhry on it and realised people who look like me can do this. When I got to university, a lot of people told me I had the energy of a stand-up and I should give it a go. So I did. 11 years later I’m privileged to have been able to call it a job, have travelled all over the world with it, met some of my heroes and even appeared on the NUFC documentary! 

Who are your comedy idols?
Paul Choudhry and Jason Cook Obviously.

But Gavin Webster too. His way of taking the biggest issues in history and politics and putting them into small everyday situations is beyond hilarious. Kevin Bridges for the same reason.

Ironically, Stewart Lee takes those same issues and somehow makes them more complicated but equally hilarious. The most gifted technical comic in the world bar none. 

& Yuriko Kotani too. She is a Japanese woman who’s lived in Britain for years and her outsider perspective on the weird cultural norms of Britain is brilliant and has helped shape my comedy, as have all of the above.

How did you and Mike Milligan meet? How did it lead to setting up the Tyne Travel podcast?
We did a gig somewhere in the Teeside area. And we just got on like a house on fire. On stage, he crushed it. I remember he had a bit of material on Heaton being the Crimea of Newcastle to stop the radgies from Byker coming into contact with the posh people in Jesmond. As someone who lived in Heaton, spent most of his time at his dad’s shop in Byker & went to school in Jesmond, I found it both hilarious and very true.

We were both manic, ADHD and loved trading stories about ‘old Newcastle’. He has a cracking routine about snorkel jackets I still love today, and if you’re too young to know what that is, watch a cinematic masterpiece called Purely Belter young ‘un.

But we really loved history, local history particularly and would always be discussing it in green rooms, and then Lee Kyle suggested we do a podcast together for Felt Nowt and here we are.

Why did you decide to turn the podcast into a live panel show?
Honestly, the podcast makes us no money, it costs us money if anything, and takes a lot of time: reading, researching and then recording. So this is a nice way for us to just make a little recompense back

But also the podcast zones in on various parts of history each episode. What we aim to do with the panel show is go over all those periods and zone in on how all of history has shaped a very unique northeastern culture.

How did author Dan Jackson get involved?
Mike had been telling me to read it for ages. I bought a new edition & in the preface about three pages in, there was my name. I was quoted from an interview I’d done in the Guardian about the North East’s brutal sense of humour. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. It’s the first book of its kind defining this region’s history and culture, and to be inextricably linked with our history and culture was huge for me. I immediately tweeted about it. We followed each other and I asked him if he’d like to be involved in an episode and maybe a live show. The rest as they say… is history. 

What can people expect from the show?
To learn an outrageous amount about the North East’s history and its contributions to so much of the World today: in history, in invention, in civil rights, and so much more, they will laugh of course, as me and Mike crack jokes and posit theories about why things worked out the way they did and finally, they’ll understand why the way we are today: hard-working, tough, loyal, friendly is shaped by these stories. 

How do you think the region’s history informs our regional identity today?
The Coal Mines are where the phrase ‘watch what ya deeing’ comes from, because if you didn’t, the mine might collapse on you. Gan Yjem is the Danish for go home which is probably a leftover from the Vikings. So much of the North East today is defined by what happened yesterday and further back, but I’m not gonna give you all the juicy bits now… You’ll have to come to the show. 

Where are some of your favourite spots to visit in the region, and why?
Oh God where to start? Craster Village, Dunstanburgh Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Tynemouth, Kielder Observatory, The Tyne Bridge and Empress Trebles Bar on a weekday when they’re doing 3 doubles for a fiver. 

What’s your favourite bit of local history trivia?
I have three. 

That famed abolitionist & runaway slave Frederick Douglass bought his freedom here… that English History was invented in Jarrow and Monkwearmouth and that the true story that inspired the Lion King happened in the North East… there is an explanation for these latter two, but you’ll have to come to the Stand on the 18th September to find out.

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