Refreshing but unsatisfying – like a Calippo, perhaps
The old showbiz adage of “leave them wanting more” is normally reserved for those occasions when a performer has revved your engines so much, you’re begging for them to continue. In the case of watching Nazeem Hussain’s latest show at Soho Theatre, it was because he repeatedly threatened to sate us, but never quite managed it.
As one half of Fear of a Brown Planet, Hussain (then alongside Aamer Rahman) carved a reputation for fearless, robust political comedy. His new one, Hussain in the Membrane, feels superficial by comparison, skating across issues such as Isis, life for Muslims under Barack Obama, and race tensions in his homeland of Australia. Some of the points he raises are points that have been made repeatedly elsewhere and aren’t explored much further – like the idea that migration to Britain is reverse karma for imperialism, and that it’s hypocritical to ban the burkini in the name of anti-oppression. This doesn’t lead me to believe he’s one of comedy’s most original thinkers.
That said, it is an enjoyable hour. Hussain’s has that all-important likability factor. His personable, self-effacing manner is such that, in his hands, the larger Soho Theatre space feels like an intimate room. His material is up and down – one joke comparing Donald Trump to Pokemon Go should never have made it to the stage – but there are some good gags in there. I enjoyed his solution to Twitter trolls, and his material on the rise of Isis and what this means for moderate Muslims like him. Some of the jokes take an awful long time to reach fruition though, like his “I was mugged in Japan” story, which contained really quite a lot of extraneous information. It was just about worth the wait.
Hussain in the Membrane is refreshing enough, but it also feels lightweight and flabby. Gritty subjects are raised, only to come to not an awful lot (the Australian far-right group he confronted, for instance). With so few Muslim voices on the comedy circuit, and with Hussain gravitating towards the subjects of race and religion, it could have been interesting and invigorating; instead it was a wasted opportunity.
Review written by Paul Fleckney