When Nazeem Hussain asks the audience at his first Fringe show, Legally Brown, whether it is too early in proceedings to mention ISIS, it suggests he thinks his routine is a little more daring than it is. However, with his winningly playful and confident routine, he has already won over tonight’s audience in the small Assembly George Square Studios venue. His fast paced, observational style could easily command a much larger stage.
His schtick centres around growing up Muslim and a second generation Sri Lankan in Australia, which he refers to as a ‘normative white society.’ He discusses cultural differences and assumptions, and plays for effect the dissonance between his Aussie accent and appearance, mocking those that claim to be colour blind. He recounts the incomprehension he faces from fellow Australians when he says he doesn’t drink (‘Are Muslims allowed to have fun?’); an experience no doubt familiar to Muslims out in tonight’s Festival audience, to whom he gives a shout out, among others, asking locals to raise their hands. It typifies the nature of his comedy, which examines his identity while being inclusive and exuberant.
He bounces from wondering why Australian women never say they find Asian men hot; to an affectionate and surreal recounting of his mother’s not-entirely-true recollection of walking to school in Sri Lanka through jungle and over mountains; then studying by lamplight before being able to watch ‘ten minutes of Sri Lankan Simpsons’ , in which Bart always did his homework, before bed.
While not exactly the most biting satire the Fringe has ever witnessed, his routine does grapple with the personal and the political in his experiences growing up Muslim in the West. He plays on racial cliches while making brittle humour out of the shocking racism he and his friends have encountered, such as when a female pal had her hijab ripped off in a supermarket before having ‘Osama Bin Laden!’ shouted in her face. Commenting on being asked the ridiculous question, ‘why don’t Muslims come out against Islam?’, he wonders whether this is the equivalent of asking hipsters to come out against single origin coffee.
Nazeem Hussain is a questioning, and very enjoyable, new voice in comedy.