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Off to the Athenaeum

It was a shocking night for venturing out on Friday – rain, wind, dark (you get that at night), cold, a storm on the way. Bravely, I drove into town. After my last foray to the comedy theatre, I thought better of using public transport.

Meeting dear, generous friends in the foyer of the Athenaeum, I was excited. I’d watched some youtubes of Fear of a Brown Planet and liked them very much. I knew nothing about Allah Made Me Funny, but the title appealed.

We wandered up to our seats in the ‘gods’ of the theatre and were not welcome. ‘The house isn’t open,’ said someone from down below on stage to our bewildered usher. ‘Tell them to get out.’ The usher’s ponytail swung embarrassedly as he told us, a little more politely, to get out. For some reason the throng (and throng it was) was herded to the feet of the various entrance stairs and made to wait. An mostly inaudible announcement was made mentioning mobile phones and cameras, and then we were allowed in. Weird.

Organisational discomfort aside, it was a very entertaining evening with Aamer Rahman and Nazeem Hussain, the two young men from Fear of a Brown Planet, as the standout stand-ups for the evening.

A shining light was the very charismatic MC, Azhar Usman, from Allah Made Me Funny. He was hilarious and very warm, a pleasure to be entertained by.

I had been worried about sexist jokes, heading off on Friday night. I didn’t find that ‘go make me a sandwich’ joke funny.

Well, during Friday night’s show there was little mention of women at all – except mothers, who clearly don’t count because when you’re childless and under 30, parents are still mythical creatures without lives of their own.

I was a little disturbed by the hard time given to Indians, however, in the show and I genuinely thought ‘the Indians are getting a bit of a bashing’. The irony of this was almost lost in my rush not to think smartarse and unsavoury things that are in any way related to race – especially the trivialising of sanctioned social crime. I should just keep quiet, after all, small, in my box, cleverly disguised as a middle-aged white woman, otherwise I’ll just piss everybody off. Everybody in my own head, clearly, and not just everybody brown.

Somebody told me Fear of a Brown Planet don’t ever get heckled by white people because white people are too scared. Scared of 27-year-old stand up comedians who have had to move home to their mothers? Bahaha. What this white person is scared of, however, is accountability. Being held responsible. Part of the problem, inconsequential to the solution. I was born in England, for God’s sake. I believe I have blood on my hands – well, on the hands of my ancestors. I’m Lady Macbeth and the nurse is watching me.

And I live in Australia. I’m an Australian citizen. But I’m not touring the country agitating for change and the betterment of the lives of brown people … or any people. I’m locked away in my cedar-weatherboard tower, slowly crumbling into the bush, up here in the mountains where you’ll all come to feed off my pets when the apocalypse comes, or the sea rises (though both may occur simultaneously, if the apocalypse is a slower-moving beast than we imagine).

I admire the young fellows of Fear of a Brown Planet. My true fear is that, as they are very good looking, and given my age and the current demonising of middle-aged women admiring handsome young men, I might have appeared predatory had I shared with them how much I enjoyed the show and how glad I was they didn’t make any sexist jokes. My skirt was above the knee, after all.

There was an emotional close to the show. The comedians from Allah Made Me Funny – Azhar Usman, Preacher Moss and Mo Amer – are the inspirations for Fear of a Brown Planet (and therefore the cause of Ahmer Rahman’s parents’ despair). Performing together was, for the five men, the culmination of a dream. And it was a fun evening that managed to capture both warmth and edge and had the audience laughing out loud – all the ingredients for great stand up comedy.

It’s Sunday as I write. About the right time for the really-pissed-off-people-who-left to be at that barbecue, still complaining about Fear of a Brown Planet and how they want their money back. If you were there, you’ll know what I mean. If you weren’t, you missed out and I suggest you get there next time.

Writer (of sorts) editor (of sorts) reviewer (of sorts) play-maker (of sorts) poet (of sorts) human being (of sorts) twitter-fiend. Contributing editor at Overland,/em> literary journal. To rephrase Schulz’s Charlie Brown: I love people, it’s humanity I can’t stand. Creator of the Literary Rats cartoon. Debut novel to be published by Allen & Unwin in 2014.

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  2. I was at the show on Friday night and am a fan of Fear of a Brown Planet. I am getting increasingly confused and concerned by apparently intelligent people’s inability to grasp points made in a lot of stand up comedy.

    The ‘sandwich joke’ is funny, because it pokes fun at the average white person’s perception of Muslims (Muslim men in particular) and their supposed attitude of sexism towards women. That you found the joke sexist, tells me you missed the point entirely and are one of those people that believes Muslim men to be sexist in their attitudes.

    I don’t blame you for having that perception, the media certainly does everything it can to generate false stereotypes and incite separation; but I’ve had the good fortune to have met a lot of Muslim men and women in my line of work and can assure you, sexist men and submissive women are as much an accepted false belief, as Santa Claus is to children.

    Although I am sure sexist Muslim men and submissive Muslim women exist, it has as little to do with religion as sexism and submissiveness does in our own white attitudes.

    • Alison, between you and Jacinda, I concede that I perhaps missed the true context of the sandwich joke – it struck a different chord with me. As to whether that makes me ‘one of those people’, I don’t know. I have to judge the feminism of each man I meet as I get to know them. If I were going to go for generalised assumptions, however, I’d go much further than ‘Muslim men’ and say that all human beings on planet earth at the moment are the victims and perpetrators of sexism/sexist attitudes. Have the management of ancient religions contributed to this situation? Yes, I believe they have.

  3. Thanks for that, Alison. I ‘got’ the joke … but I’m allowed to find some things funnier than others, aren’t I … and perhaps you missed the point, just a little, of my tongue-in-cheek approach. Nevertheless: bravo!

    I don’t think sexism is restricted to any race/religion.

  4. um actually, not really in terms of being a fan. i found your review quite bizarre in parts (the slathering over aamer and naz) and it didn’t leave me with any sense of the greatness of the evening or indeed supposed the tongue in cheek nature of the comment about the sandwich.

    surely an important part of the evening was the storm out and it shouldn’t be restricted to a in joke aside to those of us lucky enough to be there. why raise the issue of FOBP being heckled or not by whities and then not actually talk about when they were.

  5. Hmm, reCAPTCHA just deleted my response before I had a chance to post it … is it wiser than I?

    Thanks for your observations, Claire.

    All I was saying is that I did indeed think the evening hadgreatness, am sorry the review doesn’t reflect that so I will repeat: “Performing together was, for the five men, the culmination of a dream. And it was a fun evening that managed to capture both warmth and edge and had the audience laughing out loud – all the ingredients for great stand up comedy.”

    I actually didn’t ‘slather’ in any way and that was meant to be a joke.

    I clearly am just not very funny. Damn. I won’t give up the day job (when I get one).

    When I said I admire FoaBP, I meant it – and admire in the proper sense of the word. It’s groundbreaking and fantastic what they do and they’re really good at it. It takes courage to follow your art and your heart and stand-up (or any kind of comedy) is a tough gig for a career choice. Talented and clever and switched on, I think Australian culture sorely needs FoaBP and I’m glad they’re getting recognised as the asset they are.

    So thanks, Claire, for giving me a chance to say so.

    Note: the sexist/cougar thing was my attempt at humour – I truly didn’t slather.

    • Oh – and did you want to say something about the ‘hecklers’ who did leave? I really didn’t know what to say about them. Azhar Usman managed them brilliantly, don’t you think? His description of their self-imposed misery was a hilarious highlight!

      • I guess the importance of the ‘storm out’ depends on where you’re coming from in terms of being audience. I was up in the gods and all I heard was Aamer’s surprised side of things and some woman call out ‘We’d stay if it was funny’. I didn’t see the stormers and it didn’t have a massive impact where I was sitting – except in kind of ‘what the hell?’ way.

        I don’t know why they left. They were clearly intolerant and foolish but in that case … what were doing there? What were they expecting? Had they ever seen any FoaBP footage? Maybe they thought they had tickets for Carrie Fischer? I thought the stand-up at the point they left was excellent and stuff about the Aussie flag/Cronulla association something any Australian would be embarrassed and appalled by – and get the jokes.

        I’m sorry my review has had such a negative vibe.

  6. Thank you for your review, Clare (though it almost sounds as if there’s one reading of Friday’s show, and you best have it or else).

    I think the sandwich joke works because we live in a fundamentally sexist society where a woman making the sandwiches is the norm but would never be identified as sexism, so it works in contrast to the alleged sexism of Islam.

    I thought there were some sexist jokes on Friday night, but they came from Preacher Moss – the one about the wife, the one about the belly dancer, something else I can’t quite recall.

    We could speculate about when and why the hecklers left (my money’s on the Anzac joke and their nationalistic pride being wounded – ‘some things are never funny, even 96 years later’, etc), but it hurts my head. I mean, why was that couple there? Did they pay for the tickets? What did they think the comedy would be about?

    Anyway, I felt bad for Aamer, whom I think is very funny – but is also very radical. In fact, this is what I think set Brown Planet apart from Allah Made Me Funny: Aamer and Nazeem’s comedy is really quite radical. While much of the humour on the night was political – where else would the normalising of racism, being identified as a terrorist, your house being bombed and the refugee experience be fodder for comedy ¬– Brown Planet see this racism as systemic, as connected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they identify that some people are profiting from this system, but few of them are brown. Or Muslim.

  7. Thanks Jacinda. I agree about the bellydancer/wife jokes – Preacher Moss was not my favourite.

    You wrote, “I think the sandwich joke works because we live in a fundamentally sexist society where a woman making the sandwiches is the norm but would never be identified as sexism, so it works in contrast to the alleged sexism of Islam.” Thank you for saying this – the joke just made me think of my own brother and a few boyfriends along the way and their expectations and assumptions, so I did identify it as sexist but not in its context.

    And context is what it’s all about with FoaBP.

    “Brown Planet see this racism as systemic, as connected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they identify that some people are profiting from this system, but few of them are brown. Or Muslim.” Sadly, FoaBP are right.

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