After a thoroughly successful 2016 that saw him win Best New Act of the Year for his Fringe debut, Bilal Zafar is back this August with a new show, Biscuit. Emma Lawson caught up with the London-based comedian to talk about social media and sugary treats.
Biscuit is, Zafar explains, basically about his quest to find love online. With a name that continues the sugary theme of his previous show Cakes, are the two similar? Maybe tonally, but otherwise they’re apparently quite different. While Cakes involved Zafar adopting the online persona of a baker and recounting tweets of online trolls to make a point about bigotry, ignorance and hate campaigns, Biscuit sounds more personal. Zafar has previously explained the genesis for his show in a short piece for the Guardian, where he talked about his own experience of dating and criticised programmes that attempt to create and exploit misconceptions about arranged marriages – and cultures more generally – in order to chase viewer numbers.
When I ask him about the effectiveness of comedy in tackling Islamophobia, his reply is equivocal, pointing to the fact that people with these prejudices are unlikely to attend his show in the first place. (Though as his show has a pay-what-you-want option, it seems plausible that he might attract a lot of newcomers). He hopes for more diversity in comedy, as well as in the media in general, saying that it “could massively change attitudes over time”.
Social media forms an essential part of his work – why does he find it a particularly fertile topic? Zafar acknowledges his youth as a factor, but also points to the importance and universality of social media: “it’s such a huge part of my life and also something everyone knows so well and can relate to. Even the President of the US unfortunately.”
Referring to his style of comedy, Zafar says he likes to think of himself as a storyteller. This is interesting, as one criticism made of Cakes was that he sometimes relied on the tweets of his harassers too much, rather than his own narration. Hopefully Biscuit will further develop his voice.
On the question of which other comics have inspired him he is silent, and is similarly reticent about which other Fringe shows he’s looking forward to seeing. Maybe he wants to keep his picks for August to himself or possibly he simply prefers to focus on his own performance. He’s decisive about one thing, though – which biscuit will he be relying on to see him through August? Jammy dodgers, of course, the biscuit shown in his Fringe picture; the red heart a reference to the love theme of Biscuit.