Beneath St George’s Church,
Bloomsbury, on Remembrance Day, a man named Aatif Nawaz is performing a show
about Muslims. Buttocks clench, audibly. But fear not: this is no fist-bitingly
close-to-the-bone political diatribe, wrapped in politically saucy jokes.
Instantly warm and personable, it’s hard not to find Aatif likeable. Confessing his youthful vices, and blending classically British self-deprecating humour with self-described Pakistani stereotypes, he makes careful inferences and expects the audience to fill in the gaps, eliciting imaginative responses that say more about our desires and hang-ups than his.
Instantly warm and personable, it’s hard not to find Aatif likeable. Confessing his youthful vices, and blending classically British self-deprecating humour with self-described Pakistani stereotypes, he makes careful inferences and expects the audience to fill in the gaps, eliciting imaginative responses that say more about our desires and hang-ups than his. Riffing off the audience is clearly the lifeblood of his act, relying on the visceral to-and-fro of personal stories and on unpredictability, getting a few names wrong and embarrassing a poor woman out with her dad for instance, and drawing out uncensored thoughts. But his natural charm and boyish grin generated such a feeling of trust across the room that the audience went for it.
And yet, despite this psychological technique, Aatif’s act never quite reaches the dizzying heights of abstraction of certain humourists like Stewart Lee, or the gleeful irreverence of Frankie Boyle. Not that such marmite stand-ups should be the litmus test for all comedians, but the analogy is emblematic of the whole show. Despite tackling what seems like a controversial social topic, Muslims Do It 5 Times A Day is unlikely to make you clench your fists with rage or punch the air in agreement. Tonally, the show is even, neither pacy nor flagging; barring moments of loudly effusive Bollywood singing and shouting, Aatif kept things delightfully chilled, yet potentially missing comedic moments and relying on familiar tropes.
Trying to de-mystify Muslim cultures, and to talk about Pakistani families and cultural mores on the same level as Scousers or Geordies is a very admirable goal indeed, but Aatif doesn’t quite lean into the inherent absurdity of social or political misrepresentations, nor into the extremist ideologies he briefly mentioned. Clearly, he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, as reliable ‘rule of three’ gags predominate, and they work well, what with Aatif sort of bearing down benignly on the audience. But in terms of technique and comedy derived from real world absurdities, some elements felt a little undercooked, or at least under-exploited, given such fertile ground.
Lacking any howlers, Nawaz offers a Pick ’N’ Mix bag of enjoyable little gags, the vast majority of which land on their targets, played to a varied and diverse audience on the night. Although it’s not going to get your adrenaline pumping, with an admirable mission of humanising a people through comedy, Muslims Do It 5 Times A Day has plenty going for it.