The Asian Today Interview
DUBBED the hardest working comedian at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, rising comedy star Imran Yusuf brings his 40-date stand-up tour ‘An Audience with Imran Yusuf’ to West Bromwich’s The Public later this month.
Known for his intelligent and energetic delivery, Yusuf gave up a career in the video games industry for a shot on the stand-up stage – and boy did it pay off.
He burst onto the comedy scene last year after playing over 100 free shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Those shows led to a collection of 5 star reviews, queues around the block and a nomination for Best Newcomer in the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Award 2010. Since then he’s appeared on Edinburgh Comedy Gala (BBC3) and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Road Show (BBC1).
Zakia Yousaf caught up with Imran to talk comedy, religion and Chris Rock…
Imran Yusuf – comedian extraordinaire – tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m that kid in class who couldn’t stop talking, always dreaming and joking around. Always full of naïve optimism and enthusiasm. I failed school but became a comic!
Would you say comedy is in your blood?
I know that I’ve always wanted to perform and show off. Becoming a comedian has been a natural progression for me but it came with a lot of very hard work.
It’s an interesting career route – was it a hard decision to make?
I had no choice really, I could have spent more time in the video games business doing more unpaid overtime on projects that were exciting but exhausting, or I could have the instant creative control of being a comic and being rewarded with instant gratification. It’s a no brainer, but I still miss the video games business and intend to start my own development studio one day.
Tell us about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year – you’d been on the comedy circuit for a while before the festival and then all of a sudden you became the hottest thing in comedy – a bit like the ‘Justin Bieber’ of the comedy world – how did you manage that?
The “Justin Bieber of the comedy world”? I’m not a pre-pubescent, Lego-haired, pop star! Although, after the Edinburgh festival and appearing on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow everything changed. My dreams suddenly came true and now I’m managing it with the same excitement I set out to achieve.
How have you taken to the new found fame?
I don’t feel famous, I still behave normally, but when people ask for photographs, autographs or kisses, I kindly oblige.
You’re embarking on your ‘An Audience with Imran Yusuf’ tour across the country. I like the name of the tour – reminds me of the ITV shows’ An Audience with…’ – any parallels?
Hahaha, no, not at all. The plan was to stay off the radar at the last Edinburgh Festival and give my show a generic name so that it wouldn’t stand out (nobody knew who I was). I would then spend the festival perfecting my show, then spend another year making it better and then return to the festival with a solid hour in 2011. I failed. The show was positively reviewed; I received a Best Newcomer nomination. Although I failed in my plan, I managed to fail forward, so I’m happy with that. Now I am taking this show on tour around the UK, and then doing a brand new show in Edinburgh 2011.
Are there any cities in particular that you’re looking forward to visiting as part of the tour?
I’m excited about all of it as there are many places I’ve never been to. Although, I am keen on the shows I have at The Glee, it’s an amazing club and one my favourites in the country.
You’re a British Muslim – does this provide you with ample content for your shows?
Hahaha, I was waiting for this one! In comedy, you’ve got to talk about what you know, and my background is obviously an area for me to share the riches with an audience. Sure, I get to bring up very topical subjects, some of which many people may shy away from in conversation. There is a lot of fear and tension to diffuse, which comedy is the perfect vehicle for.
Do you think audiences expect a certain routine from you based on your ethnicity?
Yes, audiences do expect me to mention certain topics based on my ethnicity. I can talk about these things with credibility due to my life experience, rather than listening to all the fear-mongering sensationalism present in the media. However, it’s not all I do; I also talk about general everyday stuff and common life experiences shared by all people.
There are very few ‘no-go areas’ for comedians – do you have any?
Personally I stay away from blasphemy and anything too cruel, it’s just not my style.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your comedy and why do you think it registers so well with people?
I draw inspiration from things that move me, that make me happy, sad, excited or angry. I have also learnt to see things from many perspectives and empathise with a variety of views to help me understand and talk about subjects with intelligence.
I read an interview where you said your dream was to be ‘bigger than Chris Rock’ – did you mean in height or career wise?
Height wise, I’ve already won that one! But to become bigger than Chris Rock is a massive statement for me to make. I look to Chris Rock not only as a comedian, but as a spokesperson, a social commentator, as someone who rose to prominence with the righteous indignation of a disenfranchised community and empowered them. For a young black kid form New York to become one of the biggest and most respected comics in the world is a massive achievement, he’s lit a torch in the world of comedy for many.
What’s the best thing about being a comedian? And the worst?
The best thing is being on stage and soaking up the rolling laughter, having people come to you and shake your hand. The worst thing is all the travelling, it gets exhausting, but it’s made bearable if you have a partner to join you or to come home to.
Is your life one big jolly laugh?
My life is a lot of very hard work, but I enjoy it. I truly get to relax and have a laugh when I am with friends, but that is short-lived as there is always a project I am working on. Good thing I enjoy what I do!
Finally, I have a brother called Imran Yousaf…he isn’t funny in the slightest, do you have any tips for him…
I guess you can learn to be funny if you want to be, but it’s something that grows naturally. For me, it’s best when it comes from being playful and cheeky, if you’ve got that going on for you, then comedy becomes easier, and the girls like it!
Catch Imran Yusuf at The Public, West Bromwich on Saturday, 16th April.