Published on March 3, 2014 | by Juliett Atto0
Diversity’s comic crusader
ALN’s Juliet Atto meets Inel Tomlinson, a teacher-turned comedian from Tottenham who is shaking up the entertainment industry from the inside through his passion for diversity and equality.
Getting paid to make people laugh seems like the ultimate job. London native Inel Tomlinson, 29, travels the country on a regular basis with his own show and his own comedy night to do just that – get paid to make people laugh.
With performances at Reading and Leeds Festival, Latitude Festival and many other prestigious events and clubs, he has already built up a great name for himself.
Being a comedian was something he fell into, but he recalls growing up in the tough north London area of Tottenham and how being funny was his escape.
“It’s a tough place to come from. So being a funny guy kept me from trouble and kept me from being bullied and stopped me from bullying people, I suppose,” Tomlinson says.
After realising that entertaining people was what he was good at, he decided to study drama and theatre studies at Middlesex University. He graduated in 2006 and went on to qualify as a teacher after studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Career take off
For a year he juggled a teaching job and stand-up, but when his career on the mic took off, he decided that it was time to drop the books. “This is what I’d rather do than teach some kids,” he said, laughing.
With seven years as a stand up under his belt, Tomlinson has seen a lot of comedy and been to many different clubs. However, not agreeing with the mainly segregated clubs of today, Tomlinson, along with his childhood friend, director and photographer, Richard Wilson, decided to start their own comedy night four years ago called Kinetic Comedy.
“We wanted to bring audiences from all walks of life together and see if everybody could laugh at the same thing. We found out that they can.”
Their concept of bringing people together from all races and places seems to be working as they have already sold out their first two nights.
“Our thing is that it’s got to be a full crowd, it’s got to be energetic. It’s a comedy club you want to go to and look forward to,” he said. “It’s not just a night of laughs, but a proper party – we have a live DJ so tunes are always playing. We’ve got photographers taking pictures so people get dolled up. It’s a night out for them.”
Besides being a stand-up comedian and having his own comedy club night, Tomlinson is also the co-host and writer of the CBBC show The Johnny & Inel Show with fellow comedian Johnny Cochran. Being the host of a children’s programme might not seem like the most obvious choice, but armed with his teaching background, Tomlinson already had an insight into the mind of his audience.
“Because we had worked in tough schools in London we thought we had an idea of what children would find funny,” he explains.
Tomlinson takes cues from his days as a teacher in how to do comedy for children, without dumbing it down: “We want to pitch the comedy high so the kids have to reach to get it. You can’t pitch it low and talk down to them because kids hate it when you do that. I learned that from teaching. As soon as you do that they just go ‘Oh shut up, Sir’.”
The Johnny & Inel Show not only attracts parents and their children, but also young adults.
“We get tweets from teenagers and students who are doing whatever they were doing while watching the show,” he said laughing. “They found it funny that we got a superhero called ‘Wasteman’ in it. When the BBC found out the meaning, they took the character out.”
Tomlinson and Cochran make it a habit of finding ways to cleverly incorporate words and phrases that only people of a certain age could understand.
“There are bits in there that only they would understand. There are a lot of things that the BBC didn’t understand, that we would get away with.”
Although relatively light-hearted, the conversation takes a more serious turn when discussing the lack of diversity in mainstream television. With comedy in television and films being dominated by white, middle class men, Tomlinson is open and honest in expressing his concern.
“Being a black guy you don’t get many opportunities, especially in entertainment on major TV channels,” he said. “When was the last time you saw a black double act?”
Tomlinson thinks that it is important to have shows on mainstream television that speak to a variety of people, especially the under-represented working class and ethnic minorities. He also believes that when the black working class gets represented, it is instead in a stereotypical manner, “You get shows like Top Boy instead, which is about drug dealers and murderers.”
Despite his concerns with regards to his chances on making it in the mainstream, Tomlinson remains hopeful for the future and happy about the present.
“I’m very grateful to be in the position that I’m in. I’ve literally just got my foot in the door, but at the same time they’re trying to shut the door on my foot.”
“I’m very grateful to be in the position that I’m in. I’ve literally just got my foot in the door, but at the same time they’re trying to shut the door on my foot.” Inel Tomlinson
Whenever he feels frustrated about the inner workings of the industry, he thinks about why he is doing all of this. “It’s a case of trying to establish the reasons why I’m here. For me and Johnny with the show, it’s for us to be able to talk to an audience that they don’t cater to.”
The same goes for his comedy night, catering to a diverse audience and trying to bring people together.
“We’ve got black comedians on the same bill as Asian comedians and mainstream comedians. Go look in Time Out and show me another comedy night that does that,” he said with his boisterous laugh making a welcome return.
The new series of The Johnny & Inel Show is currently running on CBBC . For more information and tickets to Kinetic Comedy visit: http://www.kineticcomedy.com