I was recently listening to the classic rock song Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel. The song is about an intense spiritual experience Gabriel had and therefore the lyrics are rich in metaphor and subtext. Out of all the lines he sings two in particular always catch my attention:
I did not believe the information / I just had to trust imagination. – lyrics from the song Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel
We live in a time when it is difficult to trust any information that comes our way. So I guess that leaves us with imagination, but whose do we trust? Our own? In the last few years I have relied heavily on trusting the imaginations of stand-up comedians. And it is for this reason that I have recently, as usual, been watching a glut of stand-up comedy.
There was a Lenny Henry 60th birthday special on BBC2, there was a two-part show called The Big Asian Stand-Up also on BBC2, and the BBC World Service program The Arts Hour had a summer comedy special from the Lion d’Or Cabaret Theatre in Montreal. The show was hosted by the always excellent American-Iranian Maz Jobrani, and it featured several comics from all over the world, namely from countries that Trump has listed on his multi-iterative travel ban. Now there’s international irony for you.
I have also been watching some stand-up from the recent Edinburgh Fringe, the biggest arts festival in the world. This year the Fringe has seen over 20,000 individual comedy performances taking place in August. That’s over 2 years worth of performances happening in just one month!
After watching all of this comedy I have transcribed some of my favourite quotes. As you may notice most of the quotes selected have a somewhat foreign/Asian/Muslim tinge to them. That just happens to reflect the type of comedy I have come across recently. Having said that, I do enjoy a good stand-up comedian from overseas. There is no better way to understand a country and its people than through their humour. Also, to paraphrase Trevor Noah (who was recently talking about fellow comedian Ronny Chieng), a good stand-up is able to expose the stupid and illogical things society blindly subscribes to, and is someone who can also dismantle the cage of our accepted reality.
As well as being funny a stand-up from another culture, another country, can also bring a nuance and experience to issues that we natives may not necessarily have. And not just that, but a minority stand-up can use comedy to level the cultural playing field by getting their perspective across, as explained by the great American humourist Art Buchwald:
People ask what I am really trying to do with humor. The answer is, “I’m getting even.” For me, being funny is the best revenge. – Art Buchwald
And that is what I see many of these stand-ups doing, they’re not getting mad, they’re getting even. Anyways, whatever the intention of these stand-ups is, I hope you enjoy the 15 selected quotes below.
Are my parents first cousins? Yes they are. Not something I love to talk about. And I found out when I was 15. Not a good day in my life at all when I found that out. We were actually watching television and I’m making fun of George Bush to my mum. “Hey mum, that looks like what happens when two first cousins get married!” You could cut through the awkwardness with a knife. My mother was like “Your father and I are actually first cousins.” “Oh. Okay. Sorry mother but this rice and dhaal doesn’t taste very good anymore. May I be excused?!” – Ali Hassan
Are there people in here who are raising their kids modern? For those of you who don’t know raising your kids modern means spending time with them. Because our parents didn’t spend time with us. First of all, I was born in Iran and then we went to America, and immigrant parents don’t spend time with anybody. I feel like immigrant parents, I don’t care where they are from, but once they get you to America they feel their job is done. I swear! We landed and my parents said to us “Land of opportunity. Go! You’re on your own. We’ll see you at graduation. You better be a doctor. And own properties.” – Maz Jobrani
As a Canadian the only way I can make sense of the election in the US is that, to me, America is like a college girl with daddy issues. Here me out okay. It’s like she’s left her uptight British parents, moved out, experimented with a black dude, flirted with the idea of being with a woman, and then was like “Just kidding! I like rich scumbags. He’s so stupid and rich.” I feel like if America was a person that’s who she’d be, and I can tell some of you want to laugh at that joke tonight but you’re like “I’m American too, so it’s not funny.” But it’s still true. – Hoodo Hersi
British Indians, out of every group, not just minority groups, but out of every group in the UK British Indians are the wealthiest and the best educated. We are taking increasingly prominent roles in the worlds of business and finance and politics, but we do it in a sort of behind-the-scenes way, we’re not ostentatious about it. So you might not know but secretly in the shadows we are sort of…basically, Jews are catching a lot of our heat! Conspiracy nutters everywhere are worried about the Rothschilds and the entire time the Patels are just quietly working away in the background. Why do you think it’s called the Illuminati? Because we run shit using looms, naan, and tea. Wake up! – Ahir Shah
I am originally from Palestine. It’s not easy being Palestinian nowadays or for the past seven decades. I think Palestinians are a very unique minority group. I think we’re the only ethnic minority group that gets excited when a racist person tells us to go back to our country. “Why don’t you go back to your country?” “Oh my God! Thank you so much. He thinks we have a country. That is so nice. Free Palestine.” – Eman El-Husseini
I speak Bengali, which is spoken in Bangladesh and is based on Sanskrit text. I speak Urdu, which is spoken in Pakistan and is based on Arabic text. I speak Hindi, which is spoken in India and is also based on Sanskrit text. And I also speak English which, as you know, is based on oppression. – Eshaan Akbar
I was raised as a Muslim but I stopped practicing Islam a few years ago because I went on this journey of self-discovery, and that journey led me to discover bacon. That’s some lovely stuff you white guys are packing! Wow! I’ve never had alcohol but when I had bacon I was like “Woah! Hash tag I ain’t no Muslim bruv.” – Eshaan Akbar
I’m a 26 year old man who lives in his mums attic. I love living with my mum, an amazing woman. Last year we took in a refugee. He’s an amazing inspirational guy. He’s 16, he’s from Vietnam. Basically how this came about is my mum is a social worker and he was found and brought to her department, and he told us all this horrific stuff that he had been through. He’s been through the mill, he was forced into slave labour, human trafficked in the back of a van, and now he’s in Glasgow. As if that was part of the ordeal. As if he’d finally escaped from his captors, looked outside and went “Oh, for crying out loud! When will this madness end? Just put me back in the van.” So we decided to take him in. The next day the police brought him to our house. I thought that was pretty quick. I thought we would have had a couple of months, not 12 hours later the police knocking on our door saying “Alright mate? Here’s your refugee. Goodbye.” Is that it? I don’t need to sign anything? I’ve had tougher Amazon deliveries than this. What would they have done if we weren’t in? Just leave him with a neighbour? But taking in a refugee is hands down the best, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I say that like I’ve done loads of amazing stuff, like I’m Mother Theresa. The second best thing I’ve done is the time I managed to cook chips and a frozen pizza in the oven at the same time. Doesn’t sound that hard but they both had conflicting time and temperature guidelines. – Stephen Buchanan, winner of the 2018 BBC New Comedy Award
I’m British-Indian but my dad in Indian-Indian, he’s like aggressively into it. My dad has lived in various western societies for the last 37 years and has steadfastly refused to integrate into any of them, but he’s not Muslim so no one minds. I myself can’t be Indian-Indian, I couldn’t live there for long. If I have to live in a country that is so pointlessly hostile to Muslims it might as well be here in the UK. It’s closer. – Ahir Shah
Muslim women only wear the burka on special occasions these days, like when our kids have pissed us off, we’ll put one on and at home time we’ll just watch the little shits try and work out which is their mum. – Isma Almas
My best mate, Ruksana, came out to her mum. Ruksana’s mum is a very devout religious Muslim, she’s been to Hajj numerous times, she prays five times a day, so Ruksana was quite nervous about coming out to her. So she sat her down and she said to her “Mum, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m gay, I’m a lesbian.” And her mum just looked at her and said “Oh no! Now that is going to make it even harder to find you a husband.” – Isma Almas
My family are Muslim and some of you may have seen a Muslim woman wearing a burka, walking ten paces behind her husband. I just want to explain something, that’s not actually her husband. What we like to do is put a burka on, cover our faces, pick any Asian man, and follow him. It really freaks them out. – Isma Almas
My mum came over to the UK from Jamaica mid-to-late 1957. This was ten years after Windrush. She was really pissed off there wasn’t a camera crew to meet her. So she came over to the UK and it was different to what she thought it was going to be like. She thought it was going to be milk and honey and it wasn’t that at all. “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.” We saw these signs in every single place where you went, so if you were a black Irish wolfhound you were buggered. – Lenny Henry
My parents came over from Pakistan in the 60’s, along with a lot of other men and women from south Asia, primarily to do the low paid jobs that white people didn’t want to do, like being doctors and surgeons. – Isma Almas
There was a lot of confusion when I was growing up. I got confused a lot about identity, I didn’t know what was going on. The most confusing thing that was ever said to me was on September 12th of 2001. I’ll take you back, if I may. I was in the eighth grade. There was this kid in our class, his name was Kyle. We were arguing, going back and forth in front of the whole class. He pushes me against the locker, he sticks his finger in my chest and says “Go back to Afghanistan, you dirty Pakistani.” And I’m Lebanese! I don’t know if I was offended more by the bigotry or the geography of the whole situation. – Wassim El-Mounzer