Comedian Imran Yusuf says that we laugh in the same language
Born in Kenya. Of Indian descent. A citizen of the United Kingdom. Stand up comedian Imran Yusuf’s origins may be somewhat hazy but he certainly manages to balance his multiple identities very effectively.
In fact he thrives on them, believing that it is this aspect of his personality that succeeds in breaking barriers and giving his comedy a universal appeal,
“I am discovering who I am through comedy. I am a comedian who talks a lot about my life experiences. I talk about what happened to me and what I feel about the world. I talk about my background, my birthplace, my history, my religious background, my gender. I talk about things that all sorts of people understand. So it is my experiences as a human being and my unique perspectives. When I tour UK everyone comes to my show—white people, black people, brown people, green people and that is because I am the person I am.”
This intrepid traveller, who admits to having been to 10 countries this year, is on his third visit to India and first to Bangalore where he performed for The Comedy Store in the city.
Talking about the visit he says, “I love travelling. I can’t stay in one place for a long time. I am excited about being in Bangalore and I’m looking forward to this gig. I have no idea what the Bangalore audience is all about but I’ll figure it out. ”
He recalls his previous stint in India. “The comedy scene in India has grown incredibly since it started. I’ve found that the Indian audience likes a bit of banter and is very giving. I’m lucky because although I have trained in the best UK comedy circuit, I am able to ingratiate myself towards an Indian audience because I look like an Indian myself,” he says adding, “I always try to localize my gig depending on the country I am in and use what I find unique and hilarious about that country’s culture. For instance, I’ve realized that Indian people haven’t really grasped the concept of standing in a queue. They try to push their way in front of you or try to edge you or stand so close behind you that they are practically inside you,” he says.
Advent into comedy
Imran who previously worked in the video game industry traces his advent into comedy, “It was a long journey. As a teenager, I used to watch the best comedians in the country perform at The Comedy Store; they are my friends now and I get to hang out with them,” he laughs continuing, “In 2000 when I was 20 years old, I did two gigs for a Bollywood comedy night. Then I decided I wanted to make my career in games because I loved videos games.” He returned to comedy in 2003, attacking it head on, “I had to learn how to deal with the environment. Comedians have to be like a scuba diver who spends more time being marine mammals underwater than bipedal humans on land. You have to be on the stage till it becomes natural for you. I became so comfortable in that environment that the Comedy Store in London began to look like my living room,” he says, adding, “Comedy offers you unmitigated freedom to do whatever you want to do as long as the audience is laughing. And it suits the lifestyle I want to have. I get to travel with comedy—I don’t necessarily have to book holidays. I wake up, go the bathroom and go back to bed. It is not rock and roll but it is a relaxed lifestyle.
On future plans he says, “I want to be bigger than Chris Rock. He is my hero. He broke the glass ceiling in America, being this outspoken black man who can talk about large issues. Comedy in Britain is ethnically homogenous and there aren’t too many brown or black people in the UK comedy circuit. The first time I went up there, I could actually see people’s faces change. I was going to a majority white audience that probably doesn’t know too many Indian people. You have to be good and you have to be likeable and be relevant to your audience.
“Then I noticed two people who under normal circumstances would never sit together—a white, skin-head with tattoos all over sitting next to a woman in a burqa — both laughing at the same joke. I realized that we laugh in the same language, really and we need more of that. The thing is that for all the hell in the world, human beings want other human beings to be happy I want to save the world, basically,” he grins.