Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Coming all over Eddie Izzard

This comedy evening seems to have been a laugh-riot.


Review: The Road to Englistan @ King George’s Hall, Blackburn

Caroline Dutton

CAN laughter bridge a cultural divide?

It can, my dear, but what are the chances?

The Anglo-Asian comedy evening, part of Celebrate Blackburn, aimed to do just that – and in some ways it achieved its aim.

In some ways’?

The only problem was that the acts were very hit and miss.

Nothing odd about that, like the old joke about alternative comedy: now you laugh; now you don’t.

Compere John Cooper did a good job of keeping the audience in check

‘In check’? Stopping them throwing things? Heckling? Asking for their money back? Begging for the previous two hours of their lives back?

I’d sure like to know what she’s not writing about at this juncture.

…and ensuring the night ran smoothly, and the first two comics Darshan Sangrajka and Mani Liaqat went down fairly well.

Weren’t booed off the stage / assaulted / listened to in stony silence?



…the night went downhill rapidly with Aatif Nawaz, who attempted to get the mostly Muslim audience to talk about alcohol and sex – not a good move.

Okay – these are human occupations that do occur in Blackburn from time to time, though one is entirely and the other is mostly forbidden or regarded as taking men’s minds off valuable and important things, such as worshipping Allah. Perhaps he should’ve gone for the Prophet’s personal habits or something topical about the Jews?

He finished by singing a desperately awful “They stole my iPhone” to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone”.

Okay, I’ve done some stinkers myself; remember my War of the Worlds thing? Or the Gary Glitter/Kenneth Clarke spoof? Don't remind me, puh-lease.

The night continued to slide with Loughborough’s Ishi Khan-Jackson,

Now there’s a name that tells a story.

…who didn’t seem to connect, meaning laughs were few and far between.

But even ordinary club nights at WMCs get a few laughs but also a few duds so no surprises there, surely?

Thank goodness for the final act, Steve Shanyaski who stormed it.

Another one of those Andalucían Northern names.

Steve spoke about his native Stockport and the “pram army” he encounters in its uniform of velour tracksuits: “Come on Shaznay, we’ve got to get to Poundland before it shuts, we’ve got to get your grandad his 30th birthday present”.

That would be laughing at white chavs, of course.

All in all not a bad night.

Nobody died. Nobody declared fatwa on anyone. The skinheads didn’t storm in…

Talk about damning with faint praise….

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

Here’s an authoritative quote about jokes and Islam from the great man himself.

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition ...

So limericks are out but maybe the modern pentathlon’s in.

Now look, to be fair, this was obviously a very worthy effort at bringing a dash of humour to Blackburn’s race relations (yes, ‘race’; the kind of people who set this sort of thing up will be aware of and probably quite obsessed about race relations). They clearly wanted to emphasize the supposedly multiracial audience’s common humanity by bringing out the comedy in the meetings and otherwise between native Englishmen and their new Muslim neighbours. Obviously, someone was trying really hard to show both groups; look, we can laugh at ourselves and each other, so it doesn’t all have to be fighting and suspicion and segregation. Can’t we admit over a beer or a sherbet or something that we’re all good for a laugh underneath?

It doesn’t seem to have worked on this occasion, but then Blackburn was always a tough audience and they say Morecambe and Wise died there.

These guys give it a go too. Watch. Listen.

Hmm. Not too much victimhood there and they’re clearly trying to do something right, even if it’s not quite clear what it is.

The BBC some publicity to gives the same tour over here.

The response from the audience is overwhelmingly positive.

"Humour brings us all together," says one young woman. "It doesn't matter whether you're black, white, Muslim, Chinese, Indian. Humour is humour."

A Muslim man at the show says: "I think anything for the Muslims in the public eye is good right now especially if it is funny and it's showing people that we also have a sense of humour.

"In the jokes the comedians highlight things like stereotypes. This performs an educational function, so it's very positive," he added.

Well stereotypes are a bad thing I’m sure. I’m eagerly looking forward to the BBC’s next award-winning sitcom about some cheerful London board of directors with hearts of gold and the way they muddle along between Henley, the polo season and exporting powdered milk to the Third World. Maybe there can be a zany Israeli on it whose pride and joy is this souped-up Caterpillar earth mover with Starsky and Hutch go-faster stripes that he bought for a song when Gaza was evacuated, only he’s married to this tobacco exporter from Virginia, and she…

Tough gig.

So when some people go out of their way to confront the real and actual clash between some Muslims and some infidels, criticism isn’t always going be fair. If we believe in a multi-front war against Islamism (politically and theologically orthodox Islam obedient to what the core religious texts told the faithful to do - as distinct from what most of our neighbours do which is to ignore the nasty bits and get on with it), then comedy has got to be one front to fight them on, right?

Okay, way ahead of me there, you’ve been here before.

This is asymmetrical warfare in pretty much every field of combat.

Back to that quotation from AK himself; ‘There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.’

Totalitarianism is all about perfection – here on earth or in the next world. It doesn’t allow its leaders, its followers and the institutions that they value to be anything less than perfect: stern, whole, monolithic, united and incorruptible.

Remember the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda’s Triumph of the Willi; the weekly radio farce about a pompous but determined Gauleiter’s comic attempts to bring the Fuhrer’s wisdom to a run-down and politically-primitive backwoods Rhineland province? Or the Soviet sailors eagerly anticipating their annual leave in Archangelsk dancing and singing to that immortal show-stopper There is nothing like a tractor suspension fabricator?

I can’t imagine a Saudi or Pakistani equivalent of Taxi or Mork and Mindy in which the everyday mainstream Muslims gently and humourously accept all the not-them weirdness amongst them to live in peace despite their differences; nor any Iranian version of M*A*S*H in which compassionate and self-effacing Shiite doctors risk life and limb to treat wounded mujahedeen and the troops of the Great Satan alike.

In such Manichean ideologies there are only Good and Evil (as defined by the all-powerful authorities) and no room or need for compromising between them, nor recognition that just folks has some overall existence outside of their two-tone world.

Humour in politics can achieve a number of results.

It can alleviate the suffering of the oppressed by laughing at themselves, their suffering, and through that to criticise the oppressors.

‘Why the bicycle riders?’

‘Why the Jews?’

‘Dear Comrade Stalin:

You were right? I was wrong? This is a paradise?’

And then there’s to attack the other people up front; to humiliate and deride and to make them question the rightness of their cause in opposing you. Read any fisking anywhere or pretty much anyone I link to or who links to or follows my blog (thank you, thank you, thank you) and you’ll know it’s a fine technique.

So humour, like religious faith, music, national culture and a really good supply of weapons can be useful as self-defence against a determined enemy.

Humour also keeps our own feet on the ground. It reminds us that we, too, are fallible and imperfect and that we must recognise the humanity of our fellow men as we laugh at our own failings. No nation believing itself to be a master race could portray its direst battle for self-preservation as being won partly by the buffoons and fantasists and the crooks and adolescent dreamers of Dad’s Army. In its time before our State broadcaster was wholly owned by the cultural saboteurs, the BBC made All Gas and Gaiters and Oh Brother which laughed at and with the then-majority Anglican church and its Catholic parent. No crusading message there, no assault on otherness, but rather self-deprecation and love for the familiar and the homely.

Can’t say I’m expecting Al Jazeera’s Sunni and Shia Show anytime soon: theme song ‘I got Jew Babe.’

I think that West is best but I for one would hate a ‘comedy’ that made all or most Muslims out to be as entirely violent, intolerant and sexually screwed-up fanatics as their worst examples are.

Most importantly, humour can act as a salve for hurt.

It hurts to know that some of my neighbours on this island want to put bags over my wife and daughter’s heads – that a minority (but not a tiny one) thinks it’s okay to kill civilians elsewhere or even here and that there should be little or no fun or freedom. I don’t think they all do so because that the streets aren’t alight with Muslim against infidel violence – just too many of them are simply doing what the rest of us are doing: getting on; getting by; making a living and a life in these islands.

George Orwell said Britain was unlikely to go fascist because we’d all just laugh at Brits in jackboots.

But we can’t joke about this. Not quite. Notice that that ‘we’ includes Ben Elton and Harry Enfield so that’s a pretty bloody wide interpretation of ‘we’ if it includes me, dear reader.

We can’t joke about it – except in a single, special kind of way...

Here’s Eddie Izzard.

Yes, and the Crusades were, "We kill you in the name of Jesus!"

"Wait, we have Jesus too! He's a prophet in our religion! We kill you in the name of Jesus!"

"Do you? Well, we kill you for your dark skin, for Jesus was a white man from Oxford!"

"No, he wasn't! He was from Judea! Dark-skinned man, such as we!"

"Look, it's just we've come all this way. Would you mind awfully if we hacked you to bits? Just for the press back home."


After 30 years of being on the receiving end of the ignorant rudeness and drunken brutishness from native Britons in their own restaurants, Goodness Gracious Me came up with the classic Mountbatten’s Restaurant sketch as a comedic revenge for generations of Indian and Muslim waiters and chefs. I wonder how much resentment that sloughed off in laughter instead of tetchiness, lifelong grudges, and one day violence.

Humour's a safety-valve. Who'd want to block a safety valve? Insert irenic quip here.

So a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim go into a bar...


James Higham said...

Asymmetrical warfare is right and it requires a firm response.

James Higham said...

Forgive this OT promotion but please support Man in a Shed’s “Silly Week” next week. Logos are available at his site.


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