Following on from previous blog posts about Islam and humour, parts one and two

The impressionist Rory Bremner is scared to joke about Islam. He said in an interview that: “The greatest danger now is that one of the toughest issues of our time is religion. When writing a sketch about Islam, I’m writing a line and I think, ‘If this goes down badly, I’m writing my own death warrant there.’ Because there are people who will say, ‘Not only do I not think that’s funny but I’m going to kill you’, and that’s chilling.”

The comedian and writer Ben Elton has also said something similar: “I think it all starts with people nodding whenever anybody says, ‘As a person of faith…’ And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the community have about provoking the radical elements of Islam. There’s no doubt about it, the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass. They might pretend that it’s, you know, something to do with their moral sensibilities, but it isn’t. It’s because they’re scared. I know these people.”

“These people” may indeed be scared, but there are other people who are not so. Other comedians such as Dara O’Briain and Stewart Lee aren’t exactly scared to joke about Islam. With them it is more a case of the audience not knowing enough about Islam which prevents them from performing any lengthy or worthwhile Islam-based comedy routines.

I have previously referred to Stewart Lee talking about why it’s difficult to joke about Islam in “any real depth” because “there isn’t really enough of a shared collective pool of knowledge between performer and audience to be able to move off the most obvious areas really. So stop sending me your stupid fucking e-mails.”

I guess it is us up to us Muslims (especially Muslim comedians) to educate non-Muslims about Islam, not just through our intelligent well-spoken words (hopefully) but also through our righteous actions (again hopefully). All being well this will deepen the “shared collective pool of knowledge” that Lee mentions above, as well as counter balancing the negative stereotypes that rampantly exist in the media regarding Islam and Muslims.

The Irish comedian Dara O’Briain strongly agrees with Stewart Lee. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph O’Briain explained why he doesn’t really do stand up about Islam: “You do get people giving out and going ‘Well, you know, you will joke about the Christians but you won’t joke about the Muslims, huh, why is that?’ To which my slightly angry response is: my job is not to write YOU jokes about Muslims. I’ll write about stuff I know and I KNOW about growing up Catholic, but the Muslim stuff, you know…? It’s not any comedian’s job to supply angry people with anti-Muslim material, and it’s a question you hear a lot, as if somehow that balance should exist.”

In his live show This Is The Show (2010), O’Briain elaborates this point further, making the following rather poignant observation about your traditional non-Muslim comedy audience:

I occasionally self-censor. Tonight’s show, for example, features no jokes about religion…sorry, no jokes on religion, and there are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, as a topic, it bores the hole off me. I couldn’t give a shite about religion, right. I am an atheist, although not an angry atheist. If you’re into God, good luck to you. [PUTS BOTH THUMBS UP] With the hoping! But…no, no, no, I’m only teasing. I’m only teasing. Should we have a bet? You can pay me money on the other side…

The other reason I don’t do jokes about religion, and this might be specific for right now and in this country: if you do the routines I used to do, like the Catholic and Protestant routine, or the Lord’s Prayer routine, those ones are lovely routines, right. But if you do them now you genuinely get members of the Christian right coming up to you after gigs or online and going, and they love saying this, by the way, they love saying this:

“Oh yeah, you’ll make jokes about the Catholics, you’ll make jokes about the Protestants, but you won’t make jokes about the Muslims, will you? No, you’re not that brave to make jokes about the Muslim’s, are you? Oh, no, not that brave, Mr Comedian Man, to make jokes about the Muslim’s. The Christians, they’re an easy target, but you won’t make jokes about the Muslim’s.”

They fucking love that. To which I always say:

“There are two reasons I don’t do jokes about Muslims. A, I don’t know a fucking thing about Muslims. And, B, neither do you. [AUDIENCE LAUGHING] Frankly, it’d be pointless.”

I could research and write the greatest Muslim-based material you’ve ever heard…

“Hey, what’s up with the big golden horse that comes over the hill once a year and hands out cake to the kids? What’s that all about?!”

And you’d all be there going:

“Is that a thing? I’ve never heard of that there thing. Jeez, you’ve really nailed the Muslims there, Dara. Well done! Congratulations.”

By the way, apologies to any Muslims in the room who are now sitting there going:

“What golden horse? What the fuck is the man talking about? The man’s a fucking idiot. I’ve never heard of that at all. I’ve read the book cover to cover, I’ve never heard of that at all.”

– Dara O’Briain, from his stand-up show This Is The Show (2010)


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