We were repeatedly warned, by the man himself, that Sarfraz Manzoor is not, nor will he ever be, a comedian. But after taking some advice from ‘professionals’ on ‘owning the stage’, Manzoor did just that.
Manzoor, a journalist and broadcaster, is a skilled reporter, with subject matter as varied as the 24-hour news cycle demands; I remember poring over one of his stories on the burgeoning ranks of sperm banks with unabashed curiosity. But this story – the story of a life worshipping at the throne of The Boss as a means to combat growing up as a second-generation Muslim in drab, commuter-shuttling Luton – was his story.
To be so deeply personal about things that have happened in your life – good or bad – must be difficult in front of a room of strangers. Particularly when your subjects are usually far more distant, purposefully probed and examined with a critical eye towards revealing some kind of quantifiable truth. But every story is better with music and knowing this, Manzoor uses Springsteen’s musical nuggets of knowledge like subliminal messaging. The Boss’s lyrics act as a kind of key, illuminating a way out of Luton and a way into his heartfelt, and at times, heartbreaking, narrative.
It helped that Manzoor had a captive audience of misfit toys from the Badlands to lap up anecdotes of collecting Bruce sweat and concrete-surfing in the good old pre-Ticketmaster days, but you don’t need to be a card-carrying, bandana-toting, back-catalogue-reciting über-fan to identify with the themes of the performance. And here they are: growing up SUCKS, parents (generally) SUCK, being different SUCKS. Luckily, there’s always a Bruce or a Bob, a Joni or even a Beyonce to shine a light on the figurative bumps in the road, helping you become the person you want to be.
This talk was a refreshing change of pace from the scores of show-off luvvies populating the Fringe – while I love them wholeheartedly, sometimes you need a bit of Newsnight in amongst your East Enders. Hopefully ‘Greetings from Bury Park’, Manzoor’s companion tome twining Springsteen, family and cultural battlegrounds will find its way to more bedside tables in the future.