Telly quiz boffin, gay comedian, former doctor... Paul Sinha’s path to a life on stage has been anything but beige, as David Dunn learns ahead of his biggest Sheffield show
PAUL Sinha was on a mission involving something fairly messy do to with unborn babies when he got the call that changed his life.
A trained medic with a potentially bright future in the health service, he already had another side to his life, with a microphone instead of a stethoscope.
“The career-changing gig, when I went from being an entirely amateur comedian to a comedian who was being paid and had an agent, was a five-minute open spot at the Comedy Store in December ’98,” reveals Paul.
“And I wouldn’t have got it if my house-mate hadn’t been at home that night next to the phone. I was on an obstetrics and gynaecology call in East London when he rang me and said ‘You’re not going to believe this…’
“If my mate hadn’t been in I don’t know if I’d have been talking to you now. My career wasn’t going anywhere at that point.”
Paul did his first gig in 1995 and went professional five years later “after painfully slow progress on the grounds that I was a full-time hospital doctor and GP trainee”.
At first it was a hobby. “It was never really meant to be anything more, but then I fell into having agent.”
Down the years Paul has become a regular in Sheffield and is back again on October 7 with new solo show Last Christmas, his largest yet at the Memorial Hall, as part of the Last Laugh Comedy Festival.
It follows a rise in his profile as a ‘chaser’ on the ITV teatime Bradley Walsh-hosted quiz show The Chase.
People may well have clocked the white suit Paul wears as he challenges the knowledge of cash-hungry contestants.
“That white suit... it’s an albatross. I said ‘You’re the producers, I’ll just go along with it’. Then they said ‘We’re thinking about a white suit’ and I suddenly regretted having said what I said.
“It’s a gimmick. I don’t think I look great in that white suit. I’d like one of Bradley’s sophisticated suits, but that was never an option.”
Either way, quiz champion Paul admits The Chase is something of a ‘dream job’.
“They were looking for a fourth Chaser and someone took the time to let me know. If they hadn’t I wouldn’t have got off my backside and applied.
“My two personas are very different. One is cheesy ITV teatime and one is far more self absorbed and articulate. I’ve always been a BBC rather than an ITV person so it’s an interesting situation to be in where I owe a lot of what I’m known for to the big-wigs of ITV.”
In comedy Paul, however, describes himself as ‘left-field of the mainstream’. And he’s part of a ‘club’ of laughter merchants who have emerged from the medical profession – the likes of Harry Hill, Dave Spikey, Simon Brodkin who plays Lee Nelson, and Jo Brand.
“Of all the doctors in comedy I was the one who held in there for the longest,” adds Paul. “But a really good comedian is a sum of the various parts that make his life.
“I don’t think I’d be the comedian I am now if I hadn’t had a host of weird life experiences to draw on.
“A sense of perspective is important in that I’ve seen life and I’ve seen death and it helps you realise comedy is not the most important thing in the world.”
Why we keep inviting back an honorary northerner
PAUL Sinha is quick to admit he’s lucky to be making people laugh for a living.
“One of the things I’ll be talking about in the show is the degree to which little moments of chance and luck really can almost define our life, like the number of people who are married to somebody they only met by fluke or by chance because they happened to be at a certain place at one time.
“I find that absolutely fascinating and through my life important things have happened to me almost by chance.”
The same could, perhaps, be said of his relationship with Sheffield. He’s been a regular on bills at the Lescar, Memorial Hall and University, having met Last Laugh boss Toby Foster while flyering his festival show in Edinburgh.
Paul went on to perform at an Asian comedy night in Bradford and kept being invited back up north as stand-up demand rose as the recession got deeper.
Paul, it seems, is one of many no longer simply entertaining but providing a service in depressed times.
“Catharsis for austerity Britain…I’ve never really thought of it like that,” he ponders. “I do the job because I enjoy it. I’ve never thought about what makes people buy tickets.
“What has changed is the number of people doing solo shows, because of the number of outlets for stand-ups to get on telly there are more people doing tours. The route from circuit comedian to TV star can now be as little as two years.
“I saw Jack Whitehall as an unknown open spot in 2007 and now he’s a superstar. With Kevin Bridges it was even quicker. He is an authentically working class Scottish voice. Even though he’s very young he appeals to a very large age group.
“Comedy is a massive industry and you need to work out what your tastes are and choose to go and see people according to your tastes. I don’t think my market is the largest in the world but it’s fairly literate – liberal-leaning comedy lovers who like a bit of honest story-telling.”
And Paul’s got plenty to go at for his new one-hour show. The title, Last Christmas, is inspired by a festive trip in which his family went to Calcutta for the Indian part of his sister’s wedding.
Paul will talk about how his dad thought it a good idea to spend Christmas Day in the Himalayas.
“We had a six-hour drive and were 3,000feet up in an area ravaged by an earthquake,” he laughs. “The more I look at it, the more I think it is typical Western arrogance because we all knew there had been an earthquake. None of us thought we shouldn’t go.”
To hear how it ended go see Paul on October 7.