Ramadan films and HaLOL: the rise of British Muslim Comedy

The BBC has commissioned five short films from new Muslim comic talents

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It’s Ramadan, and the BBC is marking it by releasing five new shorts on iPlayer under the rather Ronseal heading of “British Muslim Comedy.”

The BBC put out a call in March for original comedy around the theme of what it means to be a British Muslim. It is clearly looking to broaden the range of its comic voices, which is a good thing. And it is no doubt on the hunt for a new Citizen Khan, which is currently the only mainstream BBC sitcom rooted in the British Muslim experience, and which draws around three million viewers per episode.

The five shorts have all been produced by Baby Cow, Steve Coogan and Henry Normal’s production company, which has an excellent track record and has done a fine job here. In the main, these look more like calling cards for new talents than anything as fully formed as a pilot.

The exception is Asim and Sadia Chaudhry’s Eid Mubarak, in which Steve Stamp plays Max, a gawky white boy who tries to ingratiate himself with the family of his crush, Aisha. Both the premise and Asim Chaudry’s Uncle Tony – a flashy self-made man, who boasts about his salary and his gold-plated fishtank (“With only one fish – albino, super rare, 10 grand. It only lives three months. I don’t care, I’ll buy a new one.”) - show sitcom potential.

The rest have taken the timing and the brief rather rigidly, with three of the shorts intent on explaining Ramadan. I learned more than I laughed watching these but The Fast and The Fool is a clever sketch which goes inside Tez Ilyas’ head as he negotiates fasting in the modern workplace. Guz Khan, aka Guzzy Bear, gives his Ramadan sketch a good punchline but it feels a little over-extended. Prince Abdi’s My First Fast is the most visually inventive, using flashbacks and period details to recall the comedian’s childhood trials. 

Sadia Azmat shows telegenic wit in her Things I Have Been Asked As a British Muslim, which debunks a whole heap of stereotypes in just five minutes, from fasting to the fact that her headscarf, which embodies modesty, class and elegance – “all the things I’m not” - has more luck with men than she does. There’s a stand-up routine in there, if not a full show.  

There are plenty more Muslim comics making themselves heard on the live circuit. For years, Shazia Mirza was a lone voice but she has been joined by Sajeela Kershi, Yasmeen Khan and Bilal Zafar of late. Imran Yusuf, a slick and wiry stand-up is a stalwart of the clubs now. In March he hosted the inaugural HaLOL, a night dedicated to Muslim comedy featuring Mirza, Prince Abdi, Ilyas, and Nabil Abdulrashid. It returns to London’s Comedy Store on 20 July for an “Eid Special”.

So “British Muslim Comedy” is thriving but it’s worth noting Azmat’s frustration at being taken for a symbol or a figurehead every time she opens her mouth. “Anything I say is going to represent the views of 1.57 billion Muslims? You’re lucky if I can tell you something that 10 Muslims agree on.”

President Obama on a podcast? What the...

Comedian coup of the week goes to Marc Maron, whose wildly popular WTF podcast scored the highest profile guest of all last week – Barack Obama. The President’s team apparently approached Maron about appearing on the podcast, which averages 220,000 downloads per episode, and the two had a wide-ranging chat which took in the Charleston shootings, Obama’s father, disappointing one’s fans and Louis CK (“He’s wonderful… And basically good-hearted even when he’s saying stuff that’s wrong.”)

Obama came to Maron’s one-bedroom house, or rather to his garage studio, to record the interview. Before he arrived, the Secret Service swept the street and tented over his driveway, and Maron he had to lock his cats in the bedroom and tidy up.

“They wanted a lot of things taken off the floor, out of the path of the President,” Maron told The Hollywood Reporter. “Piles of books, my guitars and amps, and there were some items on my desk that had to go. The Secret Service said, ‘We have to lose the hammer and the pocketknife.’ But mostly it was about cleaning comic books off the floor.” Simple.

Johnny Vegas takes on breakfast television

It’s a brave producer that lets Johnny Vegas loose on daytime television, let alone Sunday morning live television but this weekend Vegas will co-host Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. The comedian will present the show with regular host Simon Rimmer, while Tim Lovejoy is at Glastonbury.

“The lads have a great synergy, but even the strongest of relationships can benefit from time apart…” said Vegas. “I think this is a master stroke of Channel 4. They’ve not run the risk of letting me loose with three hours of live TV to wreck Tim and Simon's relationship, they've brought me in to save it.”

Vegas has been a Brunch guest previously when he talked about his pottery hobby, and last week reported on a bowls competition for the show. Is he growing old gracefully? I do hope not.

Josie Lawrence's dream: a female improv troupe

Improv is in the limelight of late. A live Whose Line is It Anyway? is in the West End and on Monday, Paul Merton and the Comedy Store Players will take to the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe for one night only. Josie Lawrence stars in both shows, and in both shows she is the only woman on stage.

“It’s a little dream of mine, at some point, to set up a little female impro group,” she said on Radio 4’s Midweek. “I’ve got the title: ‘Josie Lawrence’s Make-Up.’”

Why not make it a reality? With Cariad Lloyd, Pippa Evans, Jess Ransom, Sarah-Louise Young, Ruth Bratt and Rachel Parris, to name but a few regular improvvers, there are more than enough talents out there to make a troupe.

Ones to Watch this weekend

Alex Horne

In which the unique stand-up builds a Heath Robinson contraption on stage, with a little help from the audience and a lot of jokes. A wonderful hour.

Friday 26 June, Saturday 27 June, Soho Theatre, London

Justin Moorhouse

The Phoenix Nights star is previewing his Edinburgh show all over the North in the coming weeks, including this double header with Gein’s Family Giftshop.

Saturday 27 June, The Witham, Barnard Castle

Adam Buxton

The stand-up and his laptop head up a fine bill, including Nish Kumar and Diane Morgan.

Friday 26 June, Bush Hall, London