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'Is Australia racist? In a word, yes'

DYNAMIC DUO: Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain on growing up as Muslims in Australia

FOLLOWING A sell-out run, rave reviews and fantastic word-of-mouth at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, award winning Australian comedy duo Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain bring their show Fear Of A Brown Planet to the UK for their very first UK tour.

Examining politics and race-relations in Australia and abroad, Fear Of A Brown Planet sees the duo talking about a range of issues from immigration, the war on terror, their own parents and, as they explain, “the quirky things white people do.”

For many non-Australians, the very thought of what life must be like for Muslims in the country is one that would evoke a nervous shudder. After all, Australia has long had a reputation for its racism towards non-white inhabitants, particularly the indigenous Aborigines. But of course, there will be many who argue that race-relations in Australia aren’t as bad as the wider media has made out.

What do Rahman and Hussain make of the widely held perception that Australia is racist? Is this a true reflection of their experiences?

“Short answer? Yes,” says Hussain. “The reality of Australia’s colonial history and measures like the White Australia Policy – only allowing predominantly white migrants to enter the country until the mid 1960s – makes Australia a unique place; technologically forward but socially backwards.

“Australians are often used to it but people who visit from overseas notice the difference instantly. That’s not to say that places like the US and UK are perfect. But racism and ignorance are pervasive in Australia in a way that is just unlike other places we have been to.”

While some of the best comedy is born out of real life experiences, how do the pair go about making comedy out of taboo issues like immigration, especially in today’s politically correct society?

“Actually, we’ve never found topics like racism or immigration taboo – these are the things we have grown up laughing about our whole lives,” Rahman explains. “ We don’t do comedy just for the sake of shocking people – we really just love talking about the things that we find funny.

“When we started doing comedy, we were really trying to make our friends laugh, and that’s still the basis of how we write our material.”

One wonders what audiences – particularly non-‘brown’ audiences – make of their show.

“Initially people didn’t really know what to expect from Fear Of A Brown Planet, and white audiences are not generally used to discussing or hearing about these topics openly from our point of view,” says Rahman. “There’s a standard sort of ‘ethnic comedy’ that the mainstream enjoys, and in the beginning, a lot of people probably thought that we fit in that box. That made for some awkward silences and some very uncomfortable white folks!

“Now that people know what the show is about, we generally draw a crowd that is already interested in the issues and enjoys our take on them, which always turns out to be an ethnically mixed crowd.”

Thankfully, the fellas haven’t experienced much opposition from people who would rather ignore the issues that Fear Of A Brown Planet highlights. That is, apart from those who have taken to the world wide web to vent their disapproval.

“The most vicious opposition we face is from people who leave raging comments under our YouTube videos – so, mostly teenage boys hiding in their bedrooms,” Hussain reveals. “Other than that, people who can’t handle the show probably just don’t come. Even if people are upset or offended, there are usually too many black and brown people at the show for them to be vocal about it, so they probably just go home and cry themselves to sleep in the safety and privacy of their own homes.”

As they gear up to embark on their first UK tour, which will see them performing in cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester, how do the guys think the show will be received in Britain?

“We did a one-off show last year in Brixton, which was one of the best experiences we have ever had,” Rahman recalls. “It was really phenomenal. We announced it with about two days notice but the venue was packed and the audience was electric.
“We met a lot of people who could relate to us and loved the show, which is why we decided to bring the show back for a full tour.”

Fear Of A Brown Planet UK tour starts at Manchester Frog and Bucket on September 16, before playing at Leicester Cookie Jar on September 17; Bradford Alhambra Theatre Studio on September 18; Soho Theatre, London from September 19-22; Birmingham Mac Foyle Studio on September 24; and Cardiff Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre on September 26. For tickets, visit www.aeglive.co.uk or www.seetickets.com

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