'I've experienced more racism doing comedy than anything else'

Says Snez Naik

I’m a British Asian comic and I’ve been doing stand up for just over two years, mostly open spots and mostly in the Midlands.

When I started out I was quite successful, winning gong shows and the like.  Promoters were telling me that the best thing about my act is that I didn’t do too much Asian material which initially I found flattering, I didn’t want to be known as an ‘Asian comic’.  So things were going swimmingly, I was getting loads of gigs and great feedback. 

This was until last year, at a gig in Beoley, outside Redditch, when I was accused of being a terrorist on my walk up to the stage. That was before I’d started, and the ‘eyes’ given to me during my set crushed my spirit. It was the hardest ten minutes I’ve ever done.  Harder than even my first gig. 

At another gig in Leicester, the compere asked the crowd: ‘So what’s shit about Leicester?’, and some guy shouts: ‘Too many Pakis!’. Then I go on, excellent.

The terrorist comment was the worst and made me want to quit comedy altogether. It was just a hobby and I didn’t need to go home feeling like shit after trying to entertain bigots.  Part of me wanted to strap on a bomb and go back for an encore, but I didn’t because I’m a Hindu and it’s tough to get in to terrorist club with an Om tattooed on your arm.  Instead I turned the terrorist comment into a ten-minute bit, naming the pub.  Promoters ran a mile.

My character has also been transformed. In the two years of doing comedy I have been subject to more racism than in my whole college, university and working life. I’ve become more paranoid. I started taking pints of beer on stage with me so that people thought I was a cool Paki, like a brown Fonz, a Bronz.  I even started to feel paranoid about having a ‘z’ in my name.  I started to wonder what it was like for Asian comics who looked ‘proper Asian’ (beards, saris, hijabs, turbans), how much hassle must they get? It also answered my question of why there weren’t many minority comics in stand-up or on TV.  Who the hell needs the hassle?

The saddest thing is that in 2011 the gulf between races feels wider to me than it did 20 years ago.  Top Gear in the old days would never have been ‘racist for laughs’.  Radio 1 DJ’s would never have read out texts from listeners saying ‘Bradford is twinned with Bangladesh’ (I still have my email of complaint to the BBC).  Producers of TV shows would never have boasted about how they don’t have any minorities on their show.  TV comics would never have blacked up for laughs. A politician would never ever have got away with saying white girls are thought of as easy meat by Asian men. Comics like Norman Cho would never have ‘cracked jokes about whether large Bangladeshi families should get housing priority over the children and grandchildren of white World War Two veterans’. Sorry Norman, but if that’s how you’re tackling race issues, then I’m glad you’ve changed your act.

Most minority comics I’ve seen don’t talk about race with any conviction and it disappoints me.  When I saw Imran Yusuf on the BBC Roadshow I got excited, but my heart soon sank when I saw how watered down his set was. I blame the BBC not Imran. 

Channel 4 start a new live topical news show without a minority satirist because, let’s face it, there isn't one. America is light years ahead in this respect, not only with minorities in stand-up but on TV shows too, with all my favourite sitcoms having strong black and Asian characters in them.  The Daily Show, Parks And Recreation, The Office, Community, 30 Rock etc.  When I was younger we had Desmonds and Lenny Henry, now even Lenny is gone (sniff).

I think of all the comics I respect and admire, the ones I look up to and the ones that I’ll still be watching clips of in 20 years time.  Rock, Pryor, Carlin, Hicks, Lee, Ansari, Chegwin.  They’ve never held back or changed their material to suit an audience, they never pandered to a crowd.  These are my heroes, who I want to emulate, and compromising their acts to get gigs is not something they would've done and I won’t either, even if it means sitting at home with my feet up.  Oh, and fuck Beoley.

  • Snez is touring his living room and bedroom in 2011.  Tickets are sold out.

Published: 21 Mar 2011

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