You wouldn’t think a performer with the name of Danny Bhoy would be a proud Scotsman. But that’s where you’d be wrong. The comedian is so Scottish he won’t even admit his namesake tune is Irish.
“The Irish claim it, the Welsh claim it, and the Scottish claim it,” he said on the phone from Toronto, where he was starting a Canadian tour that ends in Vancouver on Saturday and Sunday. “You might want to go on Wikipedia and find out!”
Then again, the online people’s encyclopedia isn’t exactly gospel. Bhoy claims there’s almost nothing about his own entry that’s true. “But you start correcting one bit and there’s no point,” he says. “Let it exist as a work of fiction—and people can believe it or not—rather than fiddle or mess with it.”
The former Scottish-history major won’t even give us Alexander Graham Bell, who may have been born in the old country but moved to Canada at the age of 23, invented the telephone here, and died here. “You’re not having him! He’s as Scottish as shortbread!”
It’s not surprising, then, when he says: “I try to promote the country. I try to be an ambassador as much as possible when I’m touring.” He may give a passing reference to his Indian side in his act (Bhoy’s real name is Danni Chaudhry), but that’s about it. He has his reasons.
“I think it’s demeaning to comedy to have to explain right away, ‘Hey, I’m half-Indian and half-Scottish. Here’s some jokes about that,’ just in order for them to be comfortable with what I’m talking about. I don’t like that,” he says. “I think it’s seen as a little bit old-fashioned. That sort of in-your-face, cultural-stereotypical humour of the ’80s is being phased out.”
As for the cutesy stage name, Bhoy says it’s been a lifelong moniker with real family roots (Bhoy was his grandmother’s maiden name). “That’s what I was always called as a kid,” he says. “Everyone used to call me Danny Bhoy, so there was no question when I got into comedy that it seemed like the most obvious name for me to have. It doesn’t in any way feel like a betrayal of my family name.”
So there’s that. But there’s a more practical reason, too: “I grew up with a far heavier influence from my Scottish side, my mother’s side,” he says. “I didn’t really see a lot of my dad’s family. I just don’t want to be a fake and talk about something that I don’t have that much experience of.”
Bhoy’s ascent in comedy has been steady from day one. A year after winning an open-mike competition, he was selling out his run of shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Two years later he was touring Australia. Then came Canada, where he’s an annual visitor.
“Edinburgh’s where it all began,” he says. “People came and saw me from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and I started getting invited to festivals in other places. I guess they were looking for acts that can work other countries and aren’t too indecipherable or whose comedy is a bit more digestible.”
Now he’s got a solid international base. But it wasn’t all part of a master plan. And he’s not working toward the inevitable sitcom many comedians see as the Holy Grail.
“I didn’t have any sort of bare-faced ambition,” he claims. “I was not ruthless in my approach. I still think I’ve got a long way to go. I tend to take every tour as it comes. After every tour, what I want to do is leave an audience going, ‘I would go back and see him again.’
“It’s great that the audiences keep growing, but I certainly don’t want that kind of massive exposure that TV gives you. Nor do I want to go the other way. So I’m quite happy with the level of success I’ve found so far.”
No wonder. Bhoy’s relaxed yet physical brand of conversational comedy continues to attract new fans around the Commonwealth. Whether he comes back when summer’s in the meadow or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow, they’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow because, oh Danny Bhoy, they miss you so.
Danny Bhoy plays the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Saturday and Sunday (March 31 and April 1).