UMAR AZAD Halal?.. Is it meat you’re looking for??

Umar Azad is a self proclaimed bogan Muslim who won hearts, laughs and an award at last year’s FRINGE WORLD, as well as selling out his brilliantly titled show Halal?.. Is it Meat You’re Looking For?? He is reprising this much loved and lauded performance at this year’s FRINGE WORLD at Yagan Square from Friday, February 8 to Sunday, Feburary 16. With such a promising career ahead, audiences should check it out before he’s too famous for Fringe. NATALIE GILES had a chat with Umar and discovered that he’s so much more than just a funny guy.

You won the Best Comedy Award at last year’s FRINGE WORLD and sold out at Fringe and at the Perth International Comedy Festival. That’s some serious performance pressure – how do you deal with it? What are you hoping for this year?

Every comedian and every artist deals with pressure in their own way. I have learned to embrace the nerves and enjoy the pressures of performing. It’s a humbling experience to have people want to pay to see you and even get recognised out in public. That’s where I feel the most nervous but I am so thankful for everything. One thing that I have learned is to be myself onstage and enjoy every moment. One of the hardest things to do as a performer is to be yourself. To be real, vulnerable and carefree. I know if I do that, all the pressure dissipates once I jump on stage.

I have many great things coming up this year. After FRINGE WORLD, I am going on tour around Australia with some national and international comedians. And I have created and will be developing a TV Comedy show called Bogan Muslim which has received funding via Screenwest. So this year I am hoping to be bring my comedy to more people and make them smile and laugh. And then go to Bora Bora for a holiday!

Cogratulations on the show! That’s dope! So you describe yourself as trying to be the best bogan Muslim you can be. What does a good bogan Muslim look like?

Sipping Bintang Zeros in a VL Commodore on the way back from the mosque haha! I grew up in Forrestfield, a very bogan suburb in Perth. We had no other Islamic families around us so my friends were all bogans. You are very much a product of your environment. I practice Islam to the best of my ability. Am I a good Muslim? Nah mate. Am I a bad Muslim? I mean legally I can’t incriminate myself [laughs]. I have learned to embrace both cultures as one. Sometimes one more than the other. I love nothing more than chilling with my mates at a barbecue, going four-wheel driving while wearing me thongs and flanno – and then getting home in time for the evening prayer or a halal snack pack.

You’re a Pakistani Muslim born in the UK, living in Australia. How do you reconcile all those aspects of yourself?

Haha, yeah I guess I am unique. It took a long time for me to bring them all together. It’s hard to be yourself but I have learned the things that make you unique also make you happy. I embrace and celebrate my Pakistani heritage and all our people have achieved. From the first female President in the world to internet scams… [laughs]

I never knew how special it was for someone with Pakistani heritage to be born in London. My grandad fought for England in World War 2 and was a POW in Changi Prison. On returning home from the war he was granted an entry visa to the UK where our family’s story continued. My freedom and all that I hold dear came at a great cost. Not embracing what makes me unique dishonours his memory and that’s something I will never do. And there is growing up in Perth which I wouldn’t change for anything because I love this city and its people.

What are your goals with the show? Are you trying to break down stereotypes and doing work to change minds and hearts or are you just going for laughs?

I am just telling my story. Yes it’s funny and there are multiple message in there but I just want people to have a good time and laugh. My aim is to be able to show people how I have integrated into Australian society and the challenges, triumphs and laughs along the way. I just want them to walk away smiling, having thoroughly enjoyed themselves for an hour.

So why should Fringe goers choose your show over the 700 plus on offer? Sell yourself, player!

They shouldn’t just choose one show. There are many other brilliant shows in comedy, cabaret and theatre to name a few that Fringe goers should see. Choose someone one who is original and doesn’t follow a path but rather walks their own path and leaves a trail behind. Choose someone who is unique, interesting and catches your attention. I guarantee all of that plus a hilarious, award-winning comedy show. I promise to give you 100% of me. FRINGE WORLD is a festival where you can see local, national and international acts be the very best they can be. Now stop reading and go enjoy the festival.