Australian standup comic and Fear of a Brown Planet star Aamer Rahman speaks to Mspiration about how his humour is fueled by anger and making friends laugh.
I was born in Saudi Arabia and also lived in Oman before we finally settled in Australia. Living in these different places was like different universes. Living there, even at that young age, was very important to my attachment to my culture, particularly the religious side. It allowed me to visit Bangladesh a lot and see where I was from. I spent summers there with family learning and speaking the language, which was important to me.
Coming to Australia was bizarre. In the Middle East I was living in a country full of brown people, going to school with them and suddenly I am in Australia – the only brown kid in the classroom. It was a huge culture shock. You are suddenly aware of your race, and there is no better place to reach that realisation than the school playground. Kids are uncensored and you realise quickly that you are not the same as anyone else.
There is that narrative of kids using humour to make friends. I think I did some of that but looking back I could never use humour to diffuse racism. That was something that really stuck with me throughout school. Racism was something I couldn’t deflect, it was a much deeper kind of hostility. The only way I could see kids trying to deflect racism was by laughing a long with the racists.
I definitely had Attention Deficit Disorder, but at the same time I was a smart kid and never a ‘problem child.’ I was obsessed – and I mean obsessed – with superheroes, comic-books and action figures. Basically all that eighties escapism. My brain was 90 percent Spiderman, Star Wars, Superman, Batman and Lego. I wasn’t constantly in trouble in school but I was constantly distracted. A lot of me being an A-plus kid didn’t come from learning at school. My dad would teach me at home because I didn’t pay attention in class. My dad provided me with a far superior education – teaching me advance mathematics at the kitchen table. There was no escaping that. Unlike school, he had my full attention – definitely no chance to draw ninjas and robots in the back of my exercise book.
I became the classic South Asian kid with a high academic score and I didn’t know what to do with myself, so going into law school was kind of of automatic. Also, at that time, I still had these ideas of helping the little guy. I had a comic-book idea of the world that was quickly crushed by the reality of the legal system.
I was a clerk for a small law firm in Melbourne, doing everything from criminal to family law – basically whatever came through the door. I couldn’t handle how the system chewed people up and spat them out. I learned very quickly that being right doesn’t mean anything. It really is about how good your lawyer is and what kind of upbringing you had. I didn’t have the right personality either. Being a lawyer is like being a doctor; you need to maintain the distance from the client and I couldn’t do that. I got attached to people and I got caught up with what was happening with them. I only lasted six months before going into community and youth work.
My start in comedy was entirely because of (fellow Fear of a Brown Planet comic) Nazeem Hussein. I watched Nazeem do a heat at the (standup comedy competition) Raw in 2007 and I decided since it was still open I would enter as well. I really can’t explain what drove me to actually enter. Looking back, I was angry. It was just after the Cronulla Riots and that was fresh on people’s minds. I was pissed off that I didn’t have an outlet. I figured a microphone and stage and saying whatever I want to a crowd of people wasn’t a bad deal. I went home and wrote, not like I actually knew how to write comedy. I wrote about how I felt, and it somehow ended up becoming jokes.
The first show was all adrenaline. I don’t even know what I said. But what I do remember was a lot of our friends came to support us and that was so important to us. Looking back, Raw was the beginning of everything. Our friends came and our fan-base grew from there. That first group of friends cemented our writing process – which is basically trying to make them laugh. That is the first and foremost in our minds. We wrote for our friends ever since.
Anger is still the number one motivator for all my creativity. There is a funny side about seeing someone angry. As a kid, we sometimes provoke people to see them flip out. It’s the same thing with the comedy. As an audience it’s fun to see someone on stage angry and yelling about whatever’s on their mind. With my show I am angry, my audience is angry and they come to get their anger validated. They come to be angry about things the world tells them not to be angry about. It’s a cathartic thing for everyone in that room, from the audience to the comic. It’s good to be pissed off together for a while.
Marriage didn’t change anything. I am still angry. Me getting married didn’t change Australia’s history or end the war in Afghanistan. I am still pissed off and now I have another person to screen my jokes. But seriously, it is great to have someone who believes in you, and supports you one hundred percent. For an artist that is invaluable. I also tell a lot of people this: I rarely do a joke on stage that I haven’t run past my sister Rasha. She is ruthless and ultimately decides what makes it into a show.
People think that my comedy is about convincing people not to be racist. It’s not about that at all. They think the show is about fighting racism. I don’t think you can fight racism with comedy. Actually I think that if racists came to my show they would actually leave more racist and angry. The reality is people listen to what they want to hear. People don’t listen to music to be offended by the lyrics and comedy is the same thing. People watch artists that they agree with and I create comedy for people who think like me. I know that’s a small audience but I’m not really here to convince anyone that the way they are thinking is wrong. That’s not my problem.
Catch Aamer Rahman’s The Truth Hurts as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from March 27 to April 21 at the Melbourne Town Hall. For more information click here.
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