A Muslim Walks into a Bar…


So you’re sick to death of bigots, racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, homophobes, mono-culturalists and assorted riff raff. You’re sick of listening to the editorial and radio shock-dogs blowing that anti-Aboriginal, anti-refugee or anti-someone-else whistle. What do you do? How do you make a real and lasting difference?

Do you write an impassioned op-ed and send it to a Fairfax newspaper where you’ll be competing with a few hundred other pieces writing the same message and all effectively preaching to the converted? Or do you send it to The Oz where the odds of getting published are about as great as Kevin Andrews obtaining political asylum in Sudan or India?

Do you hope to God that someone brought up your concerns at the 2020 Summit? Is it a matter of just slapping on a Kevin 07 t-shirt? Or do you give it all up, pack your bags and fly two hours ahead (and two decades behind) to reside on a Kiwistani sheep station?

But what would that achieve? Things aren’t much better over there. Yes, they do have a Waitangi tang-thing happening. I doubt any Kiwistani MPs in the beehive would vote to send in an army of troops, police, social workers and doctors to assist with a land gra … woops … child abuse emergency. And Rotorua will freeze over before Aunty Hilun Clarke allows any nuclear-peewud Amirukun shups unto Auckland haahbaah.

I’m not sure what the ultimate answer is. But I do know that it must involve a good dose of humour. That includes being able to laugh at yourself in the same way you take the piss out of your ideological opponents.

What better way to deal with wacky pseudo-conservatives than to lampoon and laugh at them and their silly stereotyping? And then to laugh at yourself and your stereotypical responses? Why not turn tragedy into comedy? Why not come to terms with the fact that it’s a fine line between pleasure and pain?

And why don’t I just cut the pompous bullshit in this long and pointless intro and get on with describing the sheer brilliance of a stand-up comedy show called Fear of a Brown Planet? The show was sold out at last year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival. FOABP are currently performing at Sydney’s Cracker Comedy Festival.

When he isn’t runner-up in the RAW national final, Aamer Rahman works as an articled clerk in a Melbourne law firm and a youth worker at the Islamic Council of Victoria. He was born in Saudi Arabia to Bangladeshi parents.

Rahman’s show is very brash. He basically plays a game of reverse racism, complaining of all the various problems caused in Australia by white people constantly whinging about others. Rahman also wishes for the sake of the rest of us that he was a terrorist. His health condition (attention deficit disorder) means he’d probably call in sick on a busy workday like 9/11.

Nazeem Hussein is of Sri Lankan background and studies law at Deakin University. Hussein’s routine is heavily influenced by North American comic Azhar Usman, who recently toured Australia with his Allah Made Me Funny tour. There’s a fair bit of poking fun at his own surname and making jokes about the fears people have when they meet him.

caught up with the boys last week to talk about the show

newmatilda.com: Most people think Islam is a rather austere religion. What parts of your Islamic heritage and teachings inspired you to do comedy?

Aamer Rahman: The duty to speak the truth. Comedy is often just the truth dressed as entertainment. What a wanky answer.

Nazeem Hussein:
I see Islam as being all about social justice and equality. People think humours not part of our tradition. But there are plenty of stories where the Prophet and his Companions used to do better chaser-style pranks than the husbands of Liberal candidates allegedly do.

How did you guys first get together as a comedy duo?

We both entered RAW, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s amateur stand-up comp, exactly one year ago. We had done community work together but didn’t do a show together until October last year when we performed FOABP in the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Hussein: Yeah, we see this as an extension of our community work.

What made you decide to enter RAW?

I just copied Nazeem.

He sure did! Bloody Bengalis!!

RAW was a fun, safe way to get into a pretty brutal industry and scene. It taught us how to perform from scratch with no experience.

Is stand-up comedy new among Muslims? Are there any Muslim comics in other English-speaking countries you know of?

We were inspired by Allah Made Me Funny, the Muslim comedy duo from the States. Azhar and Preacher came out on tour and taught us the history of comedy as a protest art from the civil rights movement which really inspired us to take up comedy as a medium for the community work we already did.

Hussein: They taught us the mechanics of comedy and how to write. Stand-up comedy is very writing-intensive. Just to construct a single set takes more writing than we first imagined. Jerry Seinfeld once said that 3 minutes of a good stand-up routine takes 8 hours of writing. He said that to me in an e-mail.


Hussein: Serious. He said it in the same e-mail he sent cause he was pissed off I’d forgotten his birthday.

Yep, sounds like bullshit to me. Anyway, what criticisms, if any, have you received from people within Muslim communities?

We actually haven’t ever received any direct criticism from Muslims. If it happens, then it must be behind our backs.

Hussein: Yeah, I spread most of it. Actually, we’ve had no direct criticism. Just a few shocked looks from some white people in the crowd.

Apart from making lots of money, what is your ultimate goal in performing comedy?

To present an honest, non-apologetic picture of young Muslims that challenges racism and authority. Yep.

Hussein: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, I wanna be one drop toward the waterfall of social equality.

Jeez you’re full of it.

newmatilda.com has two double passes to Fear of a Brown Planet to give away to Sydney-based readers. Just send us your funniest joke. If we laugh hard, you win.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.