Fear Of A Brown Planet

Note: This review is from 2012

Review by Steve Bennett

‘Don’t worry,’ says Aamer Rahman after one politically charged routine about Barack Obama’s policies threatens to divide the audience. ‘I have crossover material in case of emergency.’ And thus any tension is dispersed.

That, in a nutshell, is the appeal of these assured young Australian Muslim comics: they are astute in matters of race and politics, sure, but also in matters of comedy. They guide their sets to glide effortlessly between opinionated segments delivered with easy affability and good humour, and more mainstream observations that chime with a universal resonance. Take note, most of the media: Muslims can express an outspoken point of view with charm and wit, not hook-waving and boggle-eyed ranting. No American flags were harmed in the expressing of these beliefs.

It’s Rahman’s colleague Nazeem Hussain who kicks of their return to the Soho Theatre after a year-long absence (with, admittedly, some of the same material). Wearing a ‘Free Gaza’ T-shirt, he makes early mention of The Innocence Of Muslims YouTube film supposedly triggering the current turmoil in the Middle East – but drops that potato before it gets too hot.

Yet he’s not so cautious about addressing the endemic racism back home in Australia, where there are just 350,000 Muslims across the entire vast country. Aussie is not a culture he can entirely identify with; as his wonderfully grotesque, and only slightly exaggerated, caricature of the sport-obsessed bloke attests. He’s also got some nice lines on colonialism, from the Brits’ haughty expectations of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi to their time empire-building in Sri Lanka, where his family are from.

More personally, he tells of obsessive, over-protective parents (they are so different, the Muslims and the Jews…) and of the ‘thundering slap’ his mother would deliver whenever he misbehaved. Such segments – along with others about call centres and Bollywood – are not as strong as those with some element of social commentary, but nonetheless they are delivered skilfully, and aren’t shy of punchlines.

It’s left to Rahman to push the envelope a little more, and nudge the audience out of their comfort zone with what he describes, tongue-in-cheek, as his ‘angry militant comedy’.

That starts with the contentious topic of Facebook ‘defriending’, but he finds new angles in near-generic topics, while having the skill to mixes this with strong anti-war sentiments (with a very nice payoff), Prince Harry, and the missiles on London tower blocks. He can even address his own prejudices in not wanting to marry a white woman, and has the quiet confidence to ride the discomfort that statement causes in some segments of the room.

To defuse the situation, he channels the thoughts of the audience, who might be expecting race-based comedy of a more clichéd nature: ‘I paid good money, so if you could just tell me how you get stopped at the airport…’ And indeed he delivers just that.

Although it’s the go-to reference for many an Asian comic, an easy-to-relate-to observation that gently highlights an inherent racism in the way the post-9/11 world works, Rahman’s routine on ‘random screening’ nonetheless has a little more bite that that.

His more aloof demeanour and occasional barbs make him slightly more antagonistic than the upbeat Hussain, though never to the point of impoliteness. Their styles contrast enough to provide a varied texture to the night, while having enough shared ground to make Fear Of A Brown Planet have a ‘brand value’, to borrow a horrible corporate concept, of smart stand-up with a fascinating angle.

Review date: 22 Sep 2012
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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