Nearly Naked Soul


On Friday night, I was sitting in the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh watching a man embarrass himself in front of a packed house.

The show was called ‘The Nearly Naked Chef’ and its only cast member, Hardeep Singh Kohli, former Newsnight Review presenter and ‘star’ of The One Show, was stalking the stage behind a giant oven, shouting out meandering arrogant anecdotes while cooking a dinner. He was overweight and sweating with nerves and the heat from the range, which must have been fitted with castors, plumbed in and installed at great expense simply to give the struggling presenter something to hide behind when one of his three punchlines failed.

Wearing a Britney style cheek microphone in what he must have felt was a nod towards his status, he tried to come off as relaxed and jovial, a kind of cheery Clive James style renaissance man. Sadly the mic picked up every nervous gulp and pant, making the weak jokes come across more like desperate pleas for attention. Sitting in the front row must have felt like being in the final scene of Sunset Boulevard.

In terms of the content, there wasn’t much. There were only two topics, both were what David Cross calls ‘my ethnic mom talks funny’ bits: his being Scottish and his being Indian. After watching him jump between them every time he crossed the stage, my companion suspected a crib sheet was taped to the oven door, but that degree of forethought seemed very unlikely.

If he were an ordinary bloke trying a new career I’d applaud him. Standing up in front of a crowd and trying to be entertaining is very hard, more so if you’re a known name and can’t experiment in obscurity to find your voice, but when this man gurns at you for an hour whilst proudly sharing his observations about Edinburgh being hilly and how he’s noticed that the Scots can be frugal, he’s hard to like.

He did manage to tell a handful of ‘jokes’ during the course of the evening which he clearly feels justifies adding the word ‘comedian’ to his website, but they were all very old and frequently circulated. The socially isolated audience who make up the Kohli fanbase might not have heard them though, so he might find an audience when the show begins touring the country this Autumn.

I suppose Hardeep views the run as an audition for some kind of daytime tv slot, and while the material was embarrassingly weak and unstructured compared to nearly everything else at the Fringe, it might have stood up alongside the inanity of Loose Women or the Jeremy Kyle Show, so there’s hope for Hardeep yet. Or rather, there would be, as I discovered after a bit of googling, if he hadn’t in July been suspended from the BBC for 6 months following a complaint from a researcher.

In the last two years, Hardeep’s wife has left him, he has been forced of air for the researcher letching, and his highly leveraged property ‘empire’, which lost 30% of its value in the recession, has come under scrutiny from Glasgow Council over the carbon monoxide poisoning of tenants. Given all that it’s hard to put the knife in and I suppose he’s due a bit of luck, but sadly I think ‘The Nearly Naked Chef will have about the same rate of success as his business, personal and television ventures.

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