Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Comedy Store, Mumbai, India.

The Comedy Store now have a state of the art, brand new venue in the country of the fastest growing economy in the world. Yes, that's right, English speaking comedy has come to India!

The most famous brand of stand-up comedy club in the world has come to Mumbai, not only as a comedy club, but as a bar, restaurant and club for party goers. Situated in a very nice shiny shopping mall all the way on the top floor sits the new comedy club with the familiar branding and set-up of the London and Manchester clubs in England. Run by British owners, yet the staff are mostly Indian and extremely helpful and polite, sometimes it feels like being treated like a celebrity.

I've only been here a few days and it is my first time in India, and it is probably the first time anyone from my family alive today has spent any time in the country since my Great Grand Father took the entire family and left for East Africa all those years ago. I have some heritage here, but only a little, most of my family has been in East Africa for a long time now and they consider that as home. I spend most of my time in the hotel, which is very nice, and spend my time chilling with the other comics, eating, going to the gym, swimming in the pool and trying not to evaporate into thin air in the sauna.

Mumbai is growing, the divide between rich and poor is sharp. The affluent and poor are so easily definable by such a visible contrast, and the inherent prejudices that come with such paradigms of identity also mean that the poor are prevented from even entering the mall. Whilst many have jobs and can afford a life that many of us in Britain take for granted, the poor must simply work for food or die. As we drive towards the gig, we pass the millions of people who live here, some of them taking the train, some of them working in shacks that can sell you shoes for £2, repair your computer or even cut your hair in the street! The worst off are the vendors who squat for hours, even in the torrential rain of India's monsoon season, selling fruit, vegetables, or mass produced items like combs. Sometimes I notice that if I smile and say 'Hello' to any of the cleaning staff in the hotel or in the mall, they are shocked that I am even talking to them. There is no welfare here like we have at home, you simply have to hustle for a living, and if you're lucky enough to be born into the right family, it can make the difference between living in poverty or living the conventional lives that many of us can easily attain at home in Britain. It's not all doom though, it'll pass to some degree one day. As India continues to grow as the fastest growing economy in the world, all eyes are on this part of the world and on China as the next big thing. So if you;re reading this, it might be a good time to learn Urdu/Hindi and Mandarin. Or ladies, marry an Asian guy.... ;-p

The gig itself is AWESOME! Indian audiences love English speaking comedy, they understand 99% of our British references, they love international politics, they love naughty comedy (sex), but they don't do blasphemy here, which is a bit of a relief because sometimes on the British circuit, that topic seems to be over saturated with a real hate. However, the local rivalry here in Mumbai is with anything to do with Pakistan, which can come off somewhat potentially as perceived racism in a way, but this is all new to me as I am experience brown on brown prejudices in the homeland of brownness. What is very intriguing though is that Indian audiences LOVE having their accent mocked. I've seen the fantastic Simon Bligh and Paul Tonkinson talk about their experiences in India, mimicking the local accent to a very receptive Indian audience who applaud such comedy. It's all in good nature, more observational than mockery really, it's hilarious to watch British comics and Indian audiences celebrate their difference in such a way that has never seen the light of day anywhere else before!

The audiences are 99% Indian, with the rare appearance of a European or specifically of a fellow Brit who chimes in on the British references and allows me to feel more at home as a result. There is often a local Indian open spot act who does about 7 mins before the closing act. These guys are good, they work hard and do their comedy in English and the audience love them just as much. I sit at the back of the room after my set and watch the show from the audience's perspective, and it is such a joy. Everyone is their to have a good time, not to get drunk and heckle. All the acts get a lot of love and when Indians laugh, they really go for it. I couldn't help but feel that this is what comedy is all about and that all comedy clubs should be exactly like this.

I've been freestyling my sets a little, using various routines from the bank of material I have built up over the years, and also pepper my sets with asides in Urdu, which always go down a storm here. It's early days, I'm just into my first weekend and there is more to come, so I am enjoying the experience and writing loads of new material as a result.

So, yes, I am having a great time. I've wanted to play he Comedy Store since I was a teenager and now about 15 years later I have made it not only to the Wembley of comedy; which is the Comedy Store in London, but to the brand new one in India that is bringing something new to the masses in a live environment exactly like the original Comedy Store did in London over 30 years ago and changed the face of live comedy for ever.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

My brand new TV pilot on BBC3!

I am excited to reveal that after what seems an age in negotiations, discussions and planning, that I shall be embarking on a new journey as the host of my very own TV show pilot on BBC3.

Here's a more official-sounding announcement - 

His self-titled show will feature a mix of stand up, sketches and animation, based around the comedian and his previous job as a games developer.
BBC Three boss Zai Bennett has commissioned the show from independent production house Brown Eyed Boy.
Its managing director Gary Reich said Yusuf was ‘one of the most dynamic, passionate and hardest working comics in the country today’.
He told Broadcast: ‘We’re grateful to BBC3 for once more putting new and emerging talent at the forefront of their ambitions.’

This is all very exciting, especially since I've now got a broader platform upon which to communicate my ideas, especially since I am quite the visual comic and the fact that my previous life in the video games business would be perfect for the opportunity of the televisual box of wonders. I am over the moon with this shot at telly and I vow to make the BEST TV SHOW EVER with great new characters that will take you on a roller coaster ride through my crazy comedy world, all hosted by me with the kind of stand-up comedy my fans love. It's going to be a unique fusion of all the influences in my life and yet be a very original British comedy that will appeal to many people for many different reasons. Whilst I was on tour, I noticed that my audiences were incredibly mixed. Watching what appeared to be skinheads sitting and laughing alongside girls in hijabs, and the old ladies bopping their heads to my pre-show music of Eric B & Rakim, I realised that I can truly communicate something with broad appeal, and if I can do anything to build bridges, then all the better.

Now, I better get some sleep, I'm flying to India tomorrow and then eventually back to the UK to put the finishing touches to my Edinburgh show ahead of the upcoming festival. The announcement of the new show is imminent, stay tuned!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Things I am looking forward to this year...

Hello lovely fans (and haters who read this because they have nothing better to do)!

I'm finally done with my tour, two months of intense travelling and performing have come to a close as I now prepare to fly to India and perform at The Comedy Store in Mumbai. It's been quite exhausting, but I've had loads of fun meeting my actual fans; the wide diverse array of people who come to my shows, whose presence has been a testament to the beauty of our multicultural and actually well integrated society in which comedy has been a bonding experience for us all. Yes, that's right, some of us are getting along and loving life, whilst haters continue to hate and live in the insular microcosm of their own misery. Feel free to join us, you only need to bring your own smile!

I know it's been a while since I updated my blog, in fact, Osama Bin Laden had to make the headlines to get me writing last time, but this time it's for me and you :-)

I am incredibly busy, my career is going from strength to strength like Goku from DragonBall Z in which he increasingly powers up over several episodes before putting the bad guy to rest. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you what I am looking forward to this year -

Comedy Store Mumbai
My favourite gig in the world has opened up a club in Mumbai, India and I am going to perform there as of this week for two weeks in total. I've heard that it is meant to be an awesome gig, where British comedy is being lapped up by the Indians who enjoy their accents being mocked. Also, I believe I may be the first British Asian to play the gig, so it should be a nice surprise for the locals should I slip in a few Urdu/Hindi bits. With India being one of the fastest growing economies thanks to outsourcing call centre contracts, cost-effective labour and definitely not the rise of corner shops. However, fellow comics have told me of the poverty they witnessed, which sits right outside the affluence of the developments that grow right in front of destitute people. This was too much for some comics to stomach, and so I naturally fear how I might react when I see it myself. I've seen it before though, in East Africa and during my travels in the middle east, where the poor have nowhere near the opportunity of welfare or any assistance. Expect to hear more about this on my blog whilst I am out there.

E3 - Unveiling of Project: Cafe
I am a massive Nintendo fan, I have been since I was a kid with my 8bit NES and copy of Super Mario Bros. I love playing video games, and when I'm not pwning n00bs on Xbox Live (or being verbally abused by American kids who hate the British), I'm often on my Nintendo DS revisiting Phantom Hourglass recently. Whilst I am in India, Nintendo will (may) reveal the very first official news of their next home console supposedly dubbed "Stream" or "Project: Cafe". Apparently it is more powerful than PS3 and Xbox 360 and will come with a more conventional controller albeit with a touch screen that can have the game streamed straight to the controller. As long as I get my Mario, Zelda, Metroid etc, I'm happy. Also, the new Mario 3DS will be revealed, and that is going to be AWESOME and you know it. I've still got to get a 3DS, but will wait for Mario Kart, Mario 3DS and RE5 before I do.

Edinburgh Festival
With my tour now done, "An Audience with Imran Yusuf" is last year's news. So prepare yourself for my brand new solo show which will debut in Edinburgh this year in August. What is the show called? Where in Edinburgh will it be? What is the show about? I hear you ask, but I am keeping it a secret for now, all details are about to be revealed very, very soon. However, if you like my upbeat positivity, then you'll love this show ;-) It'll be Ramadan during the festival again this year, however this time I am not trying to beat my 101 gigs in 25 days record!

TV project
Erm... this is kinda secret for now, but rest assured you will get to see my wiry frame and silly face on TV again, I'll even send you tickets if you sign up to my mailing list on my website!

Another TV project
Erm... another secret for now, but here is a teaser of who I was working with recently -

Say what you see!
I've already done a number of spots on BBC Radio 4. The Now Show with Punt & Dennis and Rory Bremner. The News Quiz with Sandi Toksvig, and Arthur Smith's Balham Bash. Expect to hear more of me there as you can over here -

Right, that's enough for now, this will keep me busy for a while. Along with buying a new place in a swish part of London and nurturing my newly formed life of creativity and joy with a loved one, all of the above will add to the journey I am on towards the life I desire to live and the fulfilment I wish to experience. Remember, anything is possible and there is always a way to win!