Eshaan Akbar: Prophet Like It's Hot | Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson © Steve Ullathorne
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Eshaan Akbar: Prophet Like It's Hot

Edinburgh Fringe review by Jay Richardson

Seeking to mock Islam and stir up some controversy, Eshaan Akbar's thunder has been somewhat stolen by Boris Johnson. If Isis do come for the clowns, you've got to figure the former Foreign Secretary is higher up their target list.

But then as a lapsed Muslim, Akbar has actually read the Quran and thus offers a more thoughtful, reasoned take on its teachings. Citing Charlie Hebdo, he's not oblivious to the dangers. But acknowledging that Islam and satire have rarely been easy bedfellows, he clearly relishes both the frisson of risk and having the source material almost entirely to himself, at least at the Fringe.

Ever since 9/11, comics like Akbar have been patly suggesting that Islam is undergoing a crisis of PR. But this cheerful heretic cuts to the chase, explaining and reflecting on why the Prophet Muhammed is devoid of depiction, presenting an easy primer that's yet more multi-faceted than this atheist realised.

Indeed, Akbar tends to have more recourse to The Quran Made Easy than the sacred text, feeding into his occasionally glib but light-footed summation for the uninitiated.

Nowhere in the Quran does it say anything about stand-ups he reassures us, meaning all sensitivities are there to be trampled, even if he seldom properly sticks the boot in. Islam was his parents' faith and his late mother continues to affect his soul-searching morality.

Unlike a religious comedian like Ashley Blaker – who can partially explain his Orthodox Jewish faith by sharing its most extreme dogma, the better to make it seem appealingly eccentric, if arguably sexist and regressive – non-believing Akbar knows that British perceptions of Islam are harder set. So he seeks to defang such views by pointing out misconceptions of jihad and the treatment of women.

However, when he turns the laughs on himself as an overweight drinker, his indestructible liver an amusing legacy of the strong, formative mindset religion creates, his mainstream lifestyle protests insidiously against Islam's reasonableness, making for a more complex but not always consistent narrative.

Akbar also seems to retreat into soundbite when he says that comedy is now his religion, offering his experience of a racially-profiled airport security search that's blackly funny for his selfishness despite elements of the routine's depressing familiarity.

But his path into comedy coincided with a major life event. And religion still excise some degree of hold on him, making for a show that's witty and informative but lacks the clarity of thought and overarching revelatory insight of a defining satiric take on the subject.

Review date: 12 Aug 2018
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon

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