Rayen Panday (39) is a strong stand-up comedian and in Focus he strings together witty anecdotes with smooth timing. About the benefits of ex-girlfriends with the same name, about discussing clichéd series and about a construction worker named Frits. It’s very hard not to like Panday, partly because he’s not the alpha male who mostly judges others. It’s fun with Panday: he’s the witty and charming son-in-law who occasionally makes a hard joke (“Where’s Alec Baldwin when you need him?”).
In the first half of the performance Panday switches smoothly between different songs. In the meantime, you have plenty of time to study the decor: five large portraits in a kind of stained glass effect hang a few meters above the ground. We recognize Mohammed Ali, Jesus Christ, Pamela Anderson, a barber and a Cruella de Vil-esque shrew. It arouses curiosity and above all: expectations.
The second half offers an attempt to redeem this. It turns out to be about holy houses, about which may and may not be joked. Panday tells about someone that some people prefer not to see depicted: the prophet Mohammed. Despite his misunderstanding of this, he does not see the point of doing it for that very reason.
Also read the interview with Rayen Panday: ‘People just like me, but I can be dark’
It forms the prelude to the core of the performance, Panday recognizes a distinction between ‘joke’ and ‘subject’. You have to be able to make all jokes, because that way you don’t mock the subject of the joke, he says. He tries to clarify it by means of a few stereotypical imitations of, among others, a Dutch Chinese and a Turk. Racism is not acceptable, but joking about it is, that’s what Panday seems to want to say. Not a very elevating or original point of view, but the way Panday talks about it and looks at it, feeds the idea that something bigger is being discussed here in his eyes. Perhaps, but this is not clear.
Something similar applies to the story about Rosa Parks. She turns out not to be the first black bus passenger to protest against discriminatory laws. Interesting, but also here: it is still up in the air what Panday exactly means with his finding that there is a difference between stories that ‘work’ and stories that are ‘true’.
What remains is happy enough. Panday is a captivating storyteller who makes enough to laugh. The anecdote about his family who comes to blows in the departure hall of Schiphol is particularly strong (“I was glad that Joris Linssen was not there”): beautiful and witty at the same time. It is a pity, however, that Panday cannot fully live up to the expectations he arouses. He would like to say something meaningful about the woke¬ culture, but the image that mostly sticks with him is that he does not yet know exactly what to think of it.