Imran Yusuf at Arlington Arts Centre, Snelsmore, on Saturday, April 2
COMEDIAN Imran Yusuf was in buoyant mood as he bounded on stage at Arlington Arts on Saturday - kissing a shaven-headed male audience member and shaking local PR man Nigel Morgan by the hand - and with good reason, as it was Morgan’s support of Yusuf when he judged the first-ever Newbury Comedy Festival You Must Be Joking contest back in 2004 that effectively launched his stand-up career.
Since then, Yusuf has been bubbling away on the comedy circuit, with his second big break coming last year, when a stint on the Free Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival led to a Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Newcomer nomination - the first performer in a free show to receive this plaudit. The result has been national television and radio appearances and a 42-date tour of his nominated show, An Audience with Imran Yusuf.
Saturday’s performance gave Yusuf the opportunity to show his real mettle - as well as his gratitude to Newbury - by making up for a no-show by his support act who had succumbed to food poisoning, with a preview of material prepared for hi 2011 Edinburgh show. Similarly to his main show, much of this explored the idea of identity. A practising Muslim, taken aback by how often he is asked what his parents think of his comedy (“my mother doesn’t know because my father doesn’t let her watch television”), Yusuf has a rich cultural heritage, having been born in Kenya to Kokani (Indian) Muslim parents and raised in London, with a year’s schooling in the USA while staying with relatives.
This year in the USA was an interesting experience for Yusuf, as it was the first time he’d experienced prejudice for being British, and contrasted well with his story of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he single-handedly “brought peace to the Middle East” as a Palestinian and an Israeli soldier consulted together on whether he was authentically Muslim enough to be allowed into the sacred Islamic Dome of the Rock outside of tourist visiting hours.
Suited and booted, Yusuf had a quirky style and turn of phrase, mixing self-deprecation at the expense of his skinny frame with some intentionally highly dubious chat-up lines, London-style gangsta-speak and a few amusingly outrageous statements that led the audience to gasp collectively, with the pay-off “I can get away with this!”.
Having seen him perform for radio at a recording of BBC Radio 4’s current affairs comedy series The Now Show in December, and now live at Arlington Arts, it is clear that Yusuf is a confident performer with plenty to say, and is fearless of delving into his own psyche to explore some interesting and challenging issues. Ebullient all the way through the show, he still had enough energy at the end for a sit-down chat with some of the audience in the lobby. It was nice to see a performer who was so prepared to give.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on April 7, 2011
- Images courtesy of Nigel Morgan from Morgan PR, a leading Berkshire public relations and social media consultancy http://www.morganpr.co.uk/
After 90 minutes on stage, Imran Yusuf chatted with some of the audience members for more than an hour after the show, answering questions and telling stories. As Nigel Morgan says: "This was the real Audience with Imran Yusuf!"