Comedy review: James Nokise: Britain, Let's Talk About the Golliwogs

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: There are shows tackling racism in much tricksier ways, shows getting much angrier, shows much more overtly political.

James Nokise tackles his subject in an unusual way.
James Nokise tackles his subject in an unusual way.

The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4 (Venue 12)


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But I leave this hour feeling more strongly, thinking more deeply and having laughed much, much louder than after all of them.

Nokise is half Welsh and half Samoan, raised in New Zealand. The audience I sit in is a wonderful punch of Aussie, Kiwi and Pacific Islander. Plus a little Dutch, some French and American. The atmosphere is extraordinary. One of the first big laughs (from the Pacific Islanders) comes as we Europeans find out that we cannot even pronounce the name of their island properly – despite the English insistence that we “discovered” it. Nokise is a joy to have onstage, and his intense likeability makes some of the stories he tells us all the more appalling.

He makes the single most important point I have ever got my tiny white brain around, about racism. And he does it so gently. Immediately he makes it you cannot believe you have never thought of it like that before.

But I will bet that you haven’t. Comics are doing so much “calling out” these days that they seem to have forgotten the power of simply pointing out, in a resonant, intelligent enough way, and leaving it to sink in to the minds of what is, after all, a pretty generally liberal Fringe audience. Nokise offers tales to make you gasp, jokes that will make you hoot, and ideas that will spin around and open up your mind.

And yes, we talk golliwogs, their history, their subversion, their traumatic effect, their disappearance and their ready availability in New Zealand. We meet James’s own golliwog, made for and given to him by a Maori chief. Aussies, Kiwis, Samoans and the rest of us all learn the same big lesson. It is a paradigm 21st century approach to racism.

Nokise makes a highly political show personal. And a highly personal story, political. He is a phenomenal performer: relaxed and friendly, engaging and intelligent, persuasive, informed and genuinely, naturally, brilliantly funny.

Until 27 August. Today 8:15pm.