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Auntie Netta and The Trouble With Asian Men

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

This double-bill from the producers of the film comedy East Is East mixes very different types of comedy – even within the same act.

The first half introduces us to Auntie Netta, a gregarious, hospitable asylum-seeker from Sri Lanka, who offers round tasty snacks before regaling us with her opinions and stories. But although the character is likeably eccentric, the clichéd writing lets her down.

To present a human face to a much-vilified section of society is a noble aim, and Netta’s cheeky personality certainly means she carries any such baggage lightly. Yet the jokes come either from heading straight below the belt – talking about washing her privates in the sink and how her labia’s sagging with age – or from malapropisms, the silly foreigner getting her words and phrases muddled, like ‘take the bull by the udders’.

What jars is the way this exaggerated caricature gets political. Not necessarily in the comments about the government, which tend to be too straightforward to be real jokes, comparing Nick Clegg and David Cameron to low-level insurance salesman, for example, but when she talks about her experiences as a refugee.

If you think being pelted with an egg in a racially-motivated attack is a difficult area for comedy, think about how she describes the lethal shelling and the blood-drenched soil that caused her to flee her homeland, and the guilt she constantly feels at leaving loved ones behind. It just doesn’t sit well with jokes about waxing your pubes.

The second section, the Trouble With Asian Men, is hard to classify as comedy at all. It borrows from the world of verbatim theatre – with regulars Divian Ladwa and Amit Sharma and today’s guest Sanjeev Singh Kohli, from Still Game, listening to pre-recorded interviews with fellow Asian people on headphones, then acting out those very same words.

This technique of using genuine conversation can work in comedy – think Creature Comforts – but here the pieces are not revealing or funny enough, on the whole. The trio are all excellent actors and Ladwa’s girlish giggle when voicing a woman getting sloshed in a pub is especially silly, but it’s not really enough.

We are offered a plurality of views and characters, and some of them are moderately interesting points of view, but this section feels too much like a talking-heads documentary to really entertain.

Review date: 23 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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