We chat to Aamer Rahman of Aussie comedy duo Fear Of A Brown Planet.
What’s the show about?
Sometimes it can come across as heavy: politics, racism, the war on terror – but, for us, it is just the stuff that we laugh about all the time. It’s also about growing up brown in a white society.
How did you and Nazeem start out?
We both entered Raw, the amateur open-mic competition at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It’s a lot like Australian Idol, with rounds of 10 people, night after night, doing five minutes of stand-up.
Nazeem and I were friends, although we had not done proper stand-up before. He got to the state finals and I got to the national finals.
Was your material the same starting out?
Yeah, that was what helped us stand out. We were doing something different from the get-go. It wasn't like we were doing something different and then had an awakening. This is what we were doing from the start.
We did Fear Of A Brown Planet at Melbourne Fringe Festival and it had a massive response and we just kept going from there.
How do each of your respective performances differ?
We do half-hour each. It is misleading to say that Nazeem is lighter, but I am probably more bitter. I recently had a review that said I had a bitterness that doesn't belong in comedy. They just didn't enjoy my particular brand of bitterness.
Would you do a show that was less politically minded?
We have, but even when we think about doing shows that are political, they end being political – because they are about us.
And the reality is that growing up in Australia and not being white is a political experience.
Being bullied by racists at school, our comedy always comes back to the same point.
Was your material the same starting out?
When I was at school, being Muslim, or Islam, didn’t mean anything to anyone. So I can only imagine what it must be like for kids going to school now, given what is on the news.
I went to high school in a pre-9/11 world. Australia has a unique vibe based on its colonial history and is built on the near extermination of another race.
We had the White Australia policy, which basically prevented anyone bar a white European from immigrating until the late Sixties.
All of that has a profound effect on the culture. And this combines to create a very isolated world view. People know Australia for Home And Away, beaches, surfing and racism – that is the way it is.
Are you worried about Australia becoming more conservative?
White people from the UK or the US can come here and immediately sense a difference in mentality.
I have seen the Labor party, and it is the same with both major parties in the UK, shifting to the right. There isn’t an alternative at the moment; it is whether you want to vote right or far right, conservative or very conservative.
Many people, come election time, think it is completely pointless and that’s why more and more are becoming detached from mainstream politics. It’s no surprise the majority of people aged 18-30 in the US get their news from The Daily Show.
Do you think it would be a step backwards were Romney to become president in the US?
The Romney alternative is so horrible, but at the same time, if you clinically take apart Obama’s presidency, he hasn’t been that fabulous. Obama is not the saint that history makes him out to be.
Is there enough protest in comedy?
Sometimes, I love listening to something that is totally apolitical, but what I don’t like is something that pretends to be apolitical. If someone is saying something racist or sexist but says ‘I am not political’, then that is just not true.
Who do you consider your influences?
For me, the big guys were Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. And Russell Peters, which always surprises people as his style is so different to ours – but as an Indian- Canadian comedian, he smashed the ethnic comedy scene out of the park.
Your name plays on the Public Enemy LP Fear Of A Black Planet. They play London soon – any plans to meet up?
No, I have seen them live four times and I have met Chuck D, so I can live with missing out on them over here. I am going to see Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest in Dubai on the way over, so that will ease the pain.
Fear Of A Brown Planet. Soho Theatre.
Sept 19-22. £10+
21 Dean Street, W1D 3NE
Tube: Oxford Circus