Immigration is one those nuanced issues that can be very hard to understand. Many viewpoints are put forward, and whilst you are trying to understand these along come a horde of counterpoints, making confused matters very confusing indeed. In such cases it is often a stand-up comedian who will provide some much needed clarity to the topic in hand.
Take for example American Indian comedian Rajiv Satyal who, in just over 8 minutes, tackles issues of immigration, racism, Pakistan, India, Kuwait, the American dream, and more:
As Americans I feel like we are dicks about immigration. I feel like, you know, we wonder why people want to come here and yet we say it is the greatest country in the world. Well of course the advertising campaign is working, people want to come here. And of all things, we put a state called New Mexico on the border. Of course Mexicans want to come here! It’s newer! That’s just a dick move. “And this is Old Mexico, by the way, so that is really, really uncool.” I’m just saying that if there was a New India and Pakistan my parents would have gone to check it out, you know what I mean. It just sounds like a good deal. “Same price, newer. Okay, we’ll go.” – Rajiv Satyal
And here is the always brilliant Russell Brand who needs only 92 seconds to explain the concept of immigration in terms of our global economy all via the medium of Fox News:
Not only is Fox News bigoted, it’s also misleading. I once watched it for 12 hours and there was not one story about foxes. Just stories about immigrants, really. Not even stories, just shouting. “Immigrants! Immigrants! Immigrants!” All right. What? “IMMIGRANTS!” You know that an immigrant is just someone who used to be somewhere else. “Aaahh! Have you always been there?” “No, no, no, I used to be over there.” “Aaahh! Keep still! I can’t relax with people moving around. Keep still on this spherical rock in infinite space. Keep still on the spherical rock with imaginary geopolitical borders that have been drawn in according to the economic reality of the time. Do not pause to reflect that free movement of global capital will necessitate free movement of a global labour force to meet the demands created by the free movement of that capital. That is a complex economic idea and you won’t understand it. Just keep still on the rock. And don’t be gay on it!” – Russell Brand, from his live show Messiah Complex
Another comedian who has tackled this thorny subject is Scottish stand up and author Kevin Bridges. I recently finished reading his excellent autobiography We Need To Talk About…Kevin Bridges, in which he does indeed talk about immigration. Please find below an extract from this book and, just to provide some context, Kevin is referring to a then recent trip he made to London with his older brother John in 2005, and the Festival mentioned at the start is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Anyways, not only do I hope you enjoy this extract, but I also hope it provides a wee bit of a fresh perspective on how you think about immigration. Enjoy!
Just a month before the Festival started, the London 7 July bombings took place. I watched all of the footage on TV, and I recognized places where I’d been with John.
I recognized Tube stations and streets, and London seemed much closer to me now that I’d visited and felt a connection with the place.
It was a tragic loss of life. As I watched the reaction over the weeks that followed, I started to write down some things I’d noticed. I’d watch the fear and the hysteria being perpetuated by some media sources. Then, two weeks later, the shooting by the Metropolitan Police of the innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, in Stockwell station, blew my mind.
The story of what had actually happened was unclear in the immediate aftermath, but it was commonly accepted at the time, although since proven false in court, that Jean Charles de Menezes had been running, was told by police to stop, but kept on running, presumably to catch his train.
There were also tabloid articles reporting that he had been ‘acting suspiciously’.
I’d hear people say how they ‘sympathized’ with the police officers and the stress they were under, how they ‘couldn’t take any chances’, and making other statements like that which wouldn’t have been alarming if we were in the Deep South of America.
‘He was acting suspiciously in a train station. Who doesn’t act suspiciously in a train station? If you need a piss or have an itchy arse in a train station, you act suspiciously,’ I’d say, and act out edgily looking around, uncomfortable and trying to have a scratch without anyone noticing.
‘You’d maybe expect people to walk away from you, but not seven fucking bullets in your head.’
Comedy could be social commentary as well, and I’d enjoy it when the audience would laugh and then applaud, recognizing there was more behind the joke. I liked getting into a ranting style and giving what I was saying some conviction.
This was coming with confidence and experience, and if I could keep my writing up to the same level, I’d be on my way to becoming a good comedian and a professional comedian.
London had recently been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, and it led me to make a joke about an Olympic city where people are shot for running.
I’d never go into a subject as dark as a terrorist attack purposely looking for a humorous angle, but it was through watching comedians like Richard Pryor and Chris Rock that I saw comedy could also make a point, as long as it was funny.
Articles I read about the ‘true cost of asylum seekers to the UK taxpayer’ also caught my eye, around about the same time, with certain newspapers rinsing everything they could from the racial tensions and anti-Islam feelings that followed on from the 7 July bombings.
I’d listen to people, guys in pubs, guys in the bookie’s, guys on the bus, guys on radio phone-ins or being vox popped on current affairs shows — always guys, guys who’d read tabloid newspapers at face value, taking every headline entirely as fact — ranting that the country was being taken over.
I’d never say anything, but I’d listen and wonder what the real reasons were for what they were saying, what their real problems were.
There was no point engaging in a one-on-one debate with someone who had no real weight behind their claims other than that they wanted to believe them. They wanted to believe that every foreigner who arrived in the UK was immediately given a luxury penthouse apartment and a Premiership footballer’s wages every week on benefits.
They wanted to believe that ‘this country’s lost its identity’ because it’s an easier way of saying, ‘I preferred it when it was all white people.’
Challenging or questioning these outlooks would maybe make people consider looking at the issues in a different way, but only until they met someone who agreed with them and reassured them that they were right, that immigration had destroyed everything.
On stage, though, I could make light of these flawed but increasingly popular viewpoints and maybe offer some sort of defence for people unfortunate enough to be born in a war-torn hellhole, who had managed to make it out, to start a new life.
I’d done some research and found that the majority of asylum seekers, at the time, were fleeing from Iraq and Afghanistan and their ‘true cost’ to the UK taxpayer was a fraction of the cost of the two wars the UK was needlessly involved in, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We were the ones dropping the bombs on them, so we couldn’t complain when they were looking for a place to stay.
‘If somebody blew your house up, you’d expect them to at least put you up. If my house was bombed, I’d be asking questions. Did you just fucking bomb my house? I’ll be crashing on your couch for a bit, then.’
– Kevin Bridges, from his autobiography We Need To Talk About…Kevin Bridges (chapter 60, pages 428-430)