Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer
An entertaining, if slightly unoriginal, take on life as a Western Muslim by a likeable, relaxed comedian.
Together with depression and Brexit, Islam – more precisely, Islamophobia – is one of stand-up comedy’s hottest topics right now. The likes of Shazia Mirza and Tez Ilyas already riff on this theme to distinction. Now Nazeem Hussain, an Australian of Sri Lankan heritage, is trying to show he’s a worthy addition to this group.
Hussain’s built a strong reputation Down Under for his witty observations on life as a Muslim in Melbourne: through stand-up, as part of double-act Fear of a Brown Planet; on TV with his own comedy sketch show, Legally Brown; and as a popular radio host on Triple J. And it’s easy to see why. He’s an engaging, natural performer who largely – but not completely – steers clear of the over-done ‘I get a seat on a train by holding a rucksack and the Koran’ brand of jokes.
His comedy’s generally more nuanced, often criticising Muslims and non-Muslims in a single stroke: from his family’s fear of dogs (saying the colonial canine invasion of the subcontinent means “Muslims talk about dogs in the same way white people talk about Muslims”) to the fact that even Japanese crime syndicates expect their Indian victims to haggle. Hussain also speaks eloquently about being mis-sold the ‘Australian Dream’: he spent years slogging his guts out as a tax adviser, to discover it’d only buy him a small flat in a rough part of town (despite renting out the flat and moving back home, his mother’s overjoyed as she can say her son’s a landlord).
However, Hussain needs to guard against relying too much on easy stereotypes and to discover more authority. At times his punchlines lacked a little confidence and he was thrown from his routine by (admittedly polite and pretty) hecklers, who a more experienced comedian would have sent packing. Additionally, to stand out in today’s crowded comedy market, Hussain will need to find a more unique angle on which to base his comedy, especially if he wants to succeed outside of Australia.
Until then, Hussain In The Membrane can be enjoyed for what it is: an entertaining hour from a likeable, young comedian, following on from some banging hip-hop tunes.
Nazeem Hussain is performing Hussain In The Membrane at Soho Theatre until 17th September (except 11th). For more information, see Nazeem’s official website or follow him on Twitter @nazeem_hussain.