The no-holds-barred humour of up-and-coming comedian Eshaan Akbar arrives at the Junction this month – Miriam Balanescu speaks to him before the show
Raised by a trade unionist, Labour-supporting father and a Thatcherite mother in a Muslim household, attending private school before going into a toilsome career in wealth management, government policy and even – at one point – Bollywood dance choreography, occupying multiple worlds is far from unfamiliar for Eshaan Akbar.
“I feel like not just me, but every one of us to a certain degree, exercises a level of pretence to survive the world that we live in, whether that be around our social opinions, how we behave among our friends versus family, versus our colleagues,” insists the comedian. “Pretences seem to be at the core of everything we do.”
It was when Eshaan started stand-up in 2014 that he broke free of a series of ‘serious’ jobs; he had worked in banking until the 2008 crash and just been headhunted as a speechwriter for the CEO of a bank. “Comedy was entirely a hobby, to spend time in the evenings doing something,” he recalls. “A year later, I found myself opening for Micky Flanagan – a person I knew of, and for all intents and purposes a famous person. When I walked into the green room, I saw him and thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, I’m working with him – maybe I’ll take this thing seriously.’”
With his Edinburgh debut (a show titled Not for Prophet) down, Eshaan is heading out on his first solo tour, The Pretender – though he still hasn’t quite mastered the art of putting pen to paper. “I am a person who has never ever written a joke down in my life,” he declares. “I do think that if I was to sit down and write properly, my genius would come to the fore. But I think, at the moment, I am being kind to fellow comedians, audiences and the comedy family by not unleashing the full extent of my genius just yet.”
Dubbed a ‘diplomatic provocateur’ by the Standard, teetering along the line separating political opinion often characterises his comedy. “I have always been very clear that I don’t particularly want to be a political comedian,” declares the voice of Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid and more on ITV’s Spitting Image. “Over the last few years, there’s been a conflation and blurring of the lines between a comedian’s ability to be funny and their political allegiances. When it comes to stand-up, I want to make everybody laugh, and perhaps equally, inadvertently offend everybody as well.”
Eshaan’s comedy is rooted in his family upbringing – whether that be divided points of view or sharp senses of humour. “I’ve been surrounded by funny people my whole life: my mum, my dad, or my extended family,” Eshaan explains. “To survive the banter and familiar ribbing, you had to be funny. Unbeknown to me, they helped develop my comedy career.”
In fact, Eshaan’s mother truly inspired his comedy, saying his funniness was the one area he outdid his brother – but he only tried out gigging after she had sadly passed away. “Most of our conversations were just us laughing,” he says. “When I started, those evenings we spent helped me develop this whole new part of who I am. When my mum was alive, I never had a beard. I never did comedy. And now I’m a bearded comedian.”
Having dabbled in podcasting, the up-and-coming gagster is now hoping that rising bills don’t deter audiences from indulging in the delights of live comedy. “The cost-of-living crisis is going to have a big impact on people going to watch live standup, and podcasting gives them an access point.” However, nothing beats live comedy, he urges – and The Pretender is a brilliant chance to see it in action.
The Pretender will be at the Junction on 31 March 2023