42. Aatif Nawaz — The prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) had a great sense of humour
Sofie: Hello, my name is Sofie Hagen, and you are listening to the Made Of Human Podcast, MOHpod for short. It’s a show where I speak to nice people about life: how to do it, how to be a proper human, and well, if they don’t know how to do it, we will just feel less alone together. This week, I am speaking to Aatif Nawaz, and I will let you listen to our chat in just a bit.
First, I am going on tour. I’m a comedian, if you didn’t know. I’m a stand-up comedian, and a decent one, thank you, and I’m going on tour with my brand new show called Dead Baby Frog. It’s going to be this autumn, and I’m will be in — Oh, I mean, also, I usually say this because I want you to come and see this because you’re the best people. And I will mispronounce all the words, but we’ve added a Welsh date, and I have no idea how to pronounce this, so look out for that. So, this autumn, I will be in: Peterborough, Winchester, Liverpool, Fareham, Conventry, Swindon, Leeds, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Norwich, Kendall, Milton Keynes, Bath, Aldershot, Maidenhead, Newcastle, Newport, Leicester, Manchester, Oxford, Bristol, Hull, Bromsgrove, Stockton, Cambridge, Colchester, New Milton, Redding, Whitehaven, Abe-ist with? A-bear-ist-with Aberystwth, Northampton… I’m so sorry, Aberystwth… Northampton, and Canterbury. And then I’m taking it to Denmark: Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense, and Esbjerg. I’m also taking the show to the Edinburgh in August, where I will be at the Bedlam Theatre at 2pm every single day of the Fringe, and in June and July, I’m doing tiny previews in London.
Now, on sofiehagen.com, you can find tickets for all of this. All of these things, regardless of where you are, that’s where you need to go. On my website, you can sign up for my newsletter, so you will never miss out if I announce any kind of show. And I say that- The reason I’m being so weird about that is because I always feel like I’m advertising for all my stuff way too much, like I’m all over Twitter and Facebook and podcasting like, “Watch my show! Watch my show!” And I swear to you, on the day after I’ve done the show the last time, I could have done the show maybe 200 times and spoken about it everywhere, the day after I do it for the very last time I get 10 emails from people saying, “Oh, are you doing a show soon? When can I come and see you?” And you just kind of want to go, “How do I make sure that the people who want to see me know where I’m gigging?” And the best way is a newsletter, because everyone checks their emails. So, sign up for that.
Before I let you listen to the episode, we will do this week’s Acts of Disobedience. It’s a new thing, if you haven’t heard it before. It’s a new thing where I celebrate people being disobedient to a systematic oppression of some sort. This week I, not even on purpose, I tweeted two or three things were basically saying — Well, my first point was that Islam isn’t the bad thing and it’s not Islam’s fault that the terrorists are Muslim. They can’t say it’s in the name of Islam, because it’s not. I semi-defended, I guess, religion in general, but also Islam. And, oh, God, then I tweeted something about how… I tweeted “All terrorists are men.” I did feel like in that’s implicit that no, I know there were four people at some point who weren’t… You’re all intelligent people. I don’t need to justify it, I think. When people were talking about- When people talk about terror, and they go, “Oh, I wonder who did it?” they never imagine women. Right? They just don’t. Even if it is, that’s not your go-to place, because we just automatically assume terrorists are men because violence is just such a male thing. I’m not saying, “Oh, all men are,” but that’s how we raise kids! You know, little bots play war and stuff and we teach them to be strong and fighty, so of course, OF COURSE- My point just was that masculinity is toxic. We teach men to deal with their emotions with violence.
Anyways, all of that was retweeted by just trolls from everywhere, including freaking Piers Morgan. Piers Morgan, that human garbage can, and anyways the internet is exploding. I’m not reading any… If you tweeted me, I’m so sorry. I’m not reading any tweets. I’m not looking at any comments on Facebook.
So, here’s the thing: I know stupid people and I love my friends who are stupid. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to be stupid because you can’t help it if you’re stupid. It’s not your fault. Oh, sorry. Stupid is probably a bad word to use because that’s probably a bit degrading and there’s probably a better word, but you know people are just unintelligent. It’s not a bad thing. You can’t help that you’ve been given the amount of brain power. Some people just don’t get it. And that’s fine. It’s not a bad thing, being stupid. But what I hate is that these people think — these people who comment — they’re so — but they think that they’re more intelligent than me. That’s annoying.
My tweet was something like, “If I punched you in the face in the name of Leonardo Dicaprio, would you assume that Leonardo Dicaprio was a bad person?” Something like that. And then people kept writing, “Uh, well, if Leo wrote a book about how you should punch people in the face…” As if that wasn’t my fucking point! As if my point wasn’t that it doesn’t say in the Quran that they should do terror, hence it’s the same as if I punched you in the face in the name of Leonardo Dicaprio. It’s the point, and they go, “Well, actually…” And you just want to go like, “Fuck you!”
Anyways. So. That’s a new segment. I just had a weird week. It’s a funny thing when you get a lot of abuse, which is what it is. It’s threatening messages and it’s tweets and it’s like an extreme volume of tweets and comments on Facebook, and it’s so much of it. And people are aware, you know, colleagues and friends and stuff can see it’s happening, and I mean… It’s happening to such a big extent, and there are wrong things to say and there are good things to say. I don’t expect anyone to know this. Like the good thing to say — The wrong thing to say is, “I saw that guy who called you a fat cunt. I’m sorry about that.” Because I don’t read what they say. So I don’t need people to bring it to me and say, “Oh, look at this,” because I’m aware that they’re saying bad things, but I’m not giving them the satisfaction of me reading it. So those people who bring my attention to specific — That’s a bad thing. Don’t tag me in anything, don’t… I just don’t want to see it. And then there are people who go, “Just take a few days off twitter. Maybe just post some pictures of dogs. Just do some nice things.” Is also bad. Then there’s a good thing, and only two people have said this to me. No, three people now. That’s, “Keep going.” There is a guy I dated who messaged me immediately and said, “Don’t stop. Please don’t stop.” And that is the best thing. That is the whole point of this: is keep fucking going. And when they’re trying to make you silent, which is what they’re doing by sending you abuse — They don’t want you to — They don’t even want you to feel bad. They don’t want you to feel bad. They don’t want you to explain yourself. They don’t want to have a debate. They want you to be quiet. So shout louder, so like, scream.
Which brings me to this week’s Acts of Disobedience. This one is a woman called Kate, and this is what she wrote: “I went to eat lunch in a small restaurant. I sat down, and halfway through the meal, a group of four people sat at the next table. The group was two couples, I think. One couple was an older woman and an older man who was angry, loud, and complaining about his life. Every time his wife said anything, he argued with her. He was repeatedly and loudly calling her names, swearing at her, calling her stupid. The other couple did nothing apart from look at me as if they were embarrassed. I got up and said to him, quite loudly, although I was shaking, ‘Don’t talk to her like that. That’s horrible.’ He was quite shocked and said, ‘Mind your own business,’ and started to say something else. I put my hand up and repeated myself, talking over him, saying, ‘No, no you must never talk to her like that,’ then walked to the front of the restaurant to pay. I wondered if I seemed like a crazy person, but the waitress apologized to me.”
I am receiving so many of your Acts of Disobedience and I have tears in my eyes reading every single one of them because it feels so revolutionary, and I am — It feels condescending to say proud, but I am proud as fuck and I- this is so strong and so good. Keep doing it. You can send them in on madeofhumanpodcast.com. There’s a button called Acts of Disobedience, and you can be anonymous if you want. Also on madeofhumanpodcast.com you can buy a Made of Human t-shirt. And you can keep sending them to me-not at the moment, because I don’t read my tweets, but- Post them on the Made of Human Facebook page, I don’t think the trolls have discovered that one yet.
Anyways, I’ve spoken for way longer than I thought I would. I guess I had to get all of this Internet abuse thing off of my chest. Also, I recorded this episode with Aasif Nawaz yesterday at the Phoenix Scientists Club, and so this was a few days, if you’re listening to this in the future, well, of course you are because right now no one’s listening apart from me. You could be listening to this in a year’s time, and this is recorded four days after the terror attack in London. It’s also recorded during Ramadan, so Aasif was fasting while we were doing it, and then it’s also happened whilst I was in the middle of the biggest shitstorm of my career so far in terms of TwTwitter losing its mind. So, that’s some context for the time in which this has been recorded, but this is genuinely in the top five of my favourite episodes because I was blown away. Aatif is amazing. So please enjoy this episode with the incredible Aatif Nawaz.
Aatif: What’s your podcast called?
Sofie: [laughter] It’s called Made of Human Podcast.
Aatif: Ok, that’s you then.
Sofie: What do you mean?
Aatif: No, because I scan all the podcasts on iTunes, because you know I have a podcast, too, right?
Sofie: No, I just found out. Yes.
Aatif: So it’s like I’m really bad, I’m so number-focused. Where am I in the charts now? One week, I was like — Number 8 is the best I’ve done in the UK comedy ones. And then one week it was 27 or something. I saw yours and I was like, “Ok.”
Sofie: Was it over or under?
Sofie: Oh, so, like, closer to 1 —
Aatif: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so I was like 27, yours was, like, 19 or something like that.
Sofie: Oh, nice. Nice.
Aatif: And then there was the Guilty Feminist, which I’m always close to, which is quite cool, and then the American ones like Marc Maron that still get downloaded a lot in the UK-
Sofie: And the Buxton, Buxton’s one.
Aatif: I’ve beaten Bill Burr 4 weeks in a row, so that’s nice. [laughter]
Sofie: That’s really good. Congratulations!
Aatif: All these Muslim podcast people who’ve never heard a podcast listening to mine, giving me false numbers, but yeah, it’s all good.
Sofie: Is that what’s happening? Are you getting a lot of, um…
Aatif: I have a massive fanbase in the Muslim community because I’ve been doing, like, Islamic TV for years and years, so they just follow everything. If you notice, the first comedy show I did, they’d never seen that many Muslims turn up to the Fringe Festival at the Caves every night.
Sofie: Was that when we met? Was that that year?
Aatif: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Sofie: Muslims Do It 5 Times A Day, was that the one? Try and tell people who might not know you, all of my atheists, tell them who you are.
Aatif: I’m Aatif Nawaz, I’m a stand-up comic. I’ve been doing stand-up for this is 10 years now. This year is ten years!
Aatif: Thank you! I don’t know if I should congratulate myself based on where I am career-wise, but yeah. I’m a practicing Muslim, you know, I kind of came back to — Well, I say came back to my faith — I fully kind of engaged my faith maybe four or five years ago. It was really bizarre, really, because I didn’t really — It was one of those things where you didn’t really — I was born Muslim. I happened to be born in a certain part of a certain family that was Muslim, and so I just went to prayer on Friday, and I did this, and I recited the stuff, and I never really properly engaged until sort of my mid-twenties when I started to read more and I met people who gave me more information and kind of guided me.
I was very lucky because the people I met that were — not my teachers, but the people who guided me — they weren’t like, “You MUST do this! You must do this and this is the day and you got to — “ It wasn’t like that. It was very much like, “Well, look, this is what some people think, and this is what other people think. You go make your choice.” And I kind of always gravitate to this phrase in Islam: “Let there be no compulsion in Islam,” which is beautiful. It means you can’t compel anybody to do anything. People do things in their own time or not at all. You can’t compel anybody, there’s no judgement, judgement is for God. You reserve that. So, it’s really good. There’s nice little life lessons in there.
Just simple things in my life started to get better. I used to have killer road rage, man. I’m the worst person on the road. I get so angry and I’ll just swear my head off. And that started to fade a little bit, more and more of the time, just fade away I’ve noticed. That’s one weird thing.
It’s informed my comedy as well, because I mean… When you start to really engage with the Muslim lifestyle, the community, then you see the kind of — There’s a lot of double standards and injustices and stuff and you feel obliged to step in and, like, say something and be in a position where, especially if you’re an entertainer or someone who has a following you’re obliged to say something and acknowledge these things, which is annoying, because I’ll be honest with you: all I really want to do is tell jokes. Right? That’s all I want to do: tell jokes, entertain people. But every now and again you end up becoming a spokesman. I like to start everything I say by saying, “I’m not an Islamic scholar.” I’m still learning. I’m still reading.
I was reading some really cool stuff yesterday, like a verse from the Quran which was about people who don’t believe in Islam, the disbelievers. It was really interesting because it was from the perspective of, “Look, listen, don’t persecute me for my belief.” People assume that everybody just wants everybody to convert to Islam, like from the time frame it’s like,” You’re persecuting me for my belief, why don’t you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe?” Which is such a nice laissez faire attitude to the whole thing, which people don’t really… I don’t think people engage with that a lot. They kind of gravitate to all these kind of hard-hitting, aggressive, you know, out-of-context things. So, that’s like a mini look inside my Islamic head right now, and it’s Ramadan and I’m fasting and I’m a bit all over the place, so apologies.
Sofie: Well, first of all… Oh, I’m going to fuck this up. Ramadan… Ubaidah?
Aatif: You nailed it. Yeah, it’s all good. It doesn’t matter. In Islam, it’s all about the intention, anyway. I used to get really wound up when people say my name wrong, then somebody was like, “Well, listen. Why do you care? They addressed you. A name is just a label. They’re just trying to get ahold of you, so just don’t worry about it.”
Sofie: That’s niiice.
Aatif: Well, if they’re trying. It’s really nice, that. If you meet a Muslim person and you mispronounce Ramadan Mubarak, I would be shocked if somebody turned around and said, “WHAT?! How could you say it like that?! [laughter] You disrespect me, you disrespect my family, my faith!” Most of the time Muslims will be, “Oh, that’s so sweet! She’s making an effort.” It might be the opposite. They might patronize you a little bit: “Oh, my! Good! You can say those words! Wow! Aren’t you a talented little white girl?” They might — You know what I mean? They might go the other way, but they’ll never be, like, it will never be offensive.
Sofie: Because I do… My friend, she converted, and so she says, “Asalamalakim,” and I say, “Alaikum salam,” but I always feel… I don’t know. Not a fraud, but you know when you’re on a bus and you’re going, “Alaikum salam,” I don’t know you have that feeling, I don’t know —
Aatif: It’s nice! There’s nothing! What you’re saying, in Arabic, is “Peace be with you.” That’s it. You know?
Sofie: You’re right. They’d stare more if I said it in English.
Aatif: Islam is all about the intention, but it’s just like basic courtesy. If I go visit one of my Sikh friends, and their Sikh dad is there, I have no issue saying “Sat sri akaal” to him, which is the Sikh greeting. And some people are like, “Well, that’s a religious Sikh greeting. You’re saying — “ No, no! I didn’t just convert to Sikhism, I just thought I’d show politeness to this person, you know? It’s not a big deal, I don’t think.
Sofie: Was there a specific moment when you returning or engaging into your faith? Was there a specific thing that happened, or a specific thought or a feeling where you thought, “Well, maybe this is something that…”
Aatif: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I mean, there were moments specifically… A couple of years ago, I was under a lot of pressure, kind of, in my personal life. I really, really struggled, and I had an impossible task ahead of me, and without going into the specifics of it, it was related to money, and I was just really worried about it. I was exceptionally worried about it, and I just remember thinking I was in a hopeless position, there was no way I could dig myself out of this hole. I remember making a really sincere prayer. I mean, I’d go pray. After you’ve completed the physical prayer ritual, you make an actual prayer, and then that prayer is… You can say whatever you want. And usually it’s, you know, God protect my family, and my mom, and my dad, and my wife, and my sister, and my brother, and all that kind of stuff, and, well, peace and everything. It’s not that it’s generic, it’s just that you get into the habit… It’s not empty, either, but you’re not all the way invested.
But I remember being all the way invested and saying to God, “Look, listen, I need this sum of money. I don’t want it to just fall to me from the sky, just something, anything.” And it was an impossible sum of money at the time for me. You wouldn’t believe it. I remember making this sincere prayer, and it wasn’t for me, it was for somebody that needed it. It wasn’t for myself. It was to appease somebody else, and I just… It happened. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, over time this phone call happened, and this show happened, and I got booked for this tour, and I got booked on this TV show, and all of a sudden I got cast in this, and it all kind of happened in sequence. I was telling another one of my Muslim friends, “I can’t believe it.”
So, I believe in the power of prayer. Even if you aren’t a religious person, it’s an affirmation, isn’t it? It’s saying something out loud. “I really want this. How am I going to make it happen?” And even if you don’t believe in God or you don’t believe in prayer or whatever, it’s just that physical manifestation of — By saying something out loud, you make it more possible for yourself. And all these little things, it’s not like they’re ticking boxes in my head, but they always reaffirm my faith a little bit. And now it’s just something — It’s become more something… If I feel restless, I’ll go pray if I haven’t completed the 5 prayers, you know? And I still have days where I don’t always finish them or do all 5, I’ll feel restless, sitting in bed, lying awake, and thinking about things and working things out. I find more peace in prayer. I really like it.
Sofie: Can I ask you about some just, like, really basic questions?
Aatif: Yeah, sure. Again, I am not a scholar, but very happy to — [laughter]
Sofie: In your experience… So, the whole — So, you pray 5 times a day, is it sunrise, sunset, and then when is it in the middle?
Aatif: In between. The prayers are: fajr, dhuhr, asa, maghrib, and isha’a. So, one is at sunset, one is after sunset, one is sunrise, one is — There’s no kind of timeline, based on where my understanding is, it’s not, like, based on positions of the sun or anything like that. There’s 5 times that you pray, and they kind of move with the lunar calendar kind of thing. So, you get an up-to-date timetable from your local mosque or nowadays you can go online and it will give you a timetable, and it’s different prayer times, different geographical areas, but it is 5 times. I used to, like, when I started I was looking for loopholes, like what if I did all 5 together? And my friends were like, “Listen, I’m really sorry to break this to you, but if you want to do it properly, you gotta do it those times, man.” But, it’s up to you. If you don’t wake up, you don’t wake up. Once you get into that routine, you feel very —
My dad is in his early 80s, and he still does all 5 of his prayers. He wakes up. He drives to the mosque most of the time to go do his prayers, and it blows my mind, because he’s you know, early 80s, but he’s got all this energy in him to go and do all this stuff. He’s very, very energetic. I sincerely believe the prayer is a big part of that.
Sofie: Yeah! Why, uh… But why? So, it’s Ramadan now, the holy month, and it started, was it two weeks ago?
Aatif: At the time of recording, this is day 11.
Sofie: Ok, we’re recording day 11. [laughter] You did, like, a really big sigh.
Aatif: Yeah, you know what? I’m not — The thig is, it’s very spiritually fulfilling, but it is physically exhausting, right, because you can’t eat and drink for all this time, then you have to cram your eating and drinking in a very small amount of time, and you’re not supposed to be excessive, but you can’t help it! You know what I mean? You can’t. My family… it’s very hard because of the timings to do group iftars, or go and break your fast with your family or friends or any of that kind of stuff. When you do, it tends to be a really big thing, and the more I’ve — The more time I’ve been spending with the Muslim charities, they really get about, you know, let’s not try and waste food, let’s try not to buy excess to support those people and help those people and not iftar for those who can’t afford iftar. There’s so many positive social things to do where it’s enough to make you feel quite guilty for overindulging at the time of eating. But I’m knackered, man. I’m knackered. I was up at, like, 2:30, 3:00. I prayed, at 3 I prayed, and I tried to go to bed, and I just couldn’t. I googled wrestling results, [and I woke up at, like, 11. No I didn’t. I woke up at 9, because my wife told me there was an egg on our balcony.
Aatif: Yeah. I don’t know where that came from. There’s an egg on our balcony. I think it’s from a pigeon or something. But it’s a giant egg, so I feel bad for the poor pigeon that had to lay that! [laughter] Because it’s a massive egg. It’s just in the middle of our balcony. It’s not like somebody tried to egg us or anything, it’s like a big solid egg. It’s on our balcony, and she went, “Hey, look, there’s an egg on our balcony,” and I was like, “Oh, ok.” [laughter] And at that point, I’m thinking, it would have been there 2 hours. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do, like, do you call the RSPCA? There’s an egg on my balcony. And my wife just joked, “Can we eat it?” [both laugh] I don’t know if we can. I don’t feel comfortable eating it. I don’t know what they do to eggs. But, yeah, there’s an egg. The long and short of it is there’s an egg on my balcony.
Sofie: That’s amazing. Like, how big? Ostrich?
Aatif: No, it’s not an ostrich size. It’s like the size of a supermarket egg, but, like, a large supermarket egg. But it’s right there in the middle of my balcony. I don’t know what’s going on.
Sofie: Is there anything about that in the Quran? Is it a sign?
Aatif: I don’t know. I’m going to ask somebody today. I don’t think it is a sign of anything. I don’t really personally believe in signs. I feel you have a set of principles, you live by them, you try and be a good person when you’re faced with a dilemma, but I think the egg on the balcony, I feel like I can handle that one without divine intervention or anything. [laughter]
Sofie: I didn’t mean to make it sound like a woooooo, like —
Aatif: But that’s ok! You can! The thing is, it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with having a sense of humour about it, man. I mean, some people get so sensitive, like, “You cannot joke about my faith.” And the thing is, I mean, it’s not nice to make mean spirited jokes about our faith, but most of the time people don’t make mean spirited things. It’s like a throwaway thing, and you take it as such and move on. It’s not a big deal.
Sofie: I did, well, a pilot for a documentary in Denmark, which was me and this Muslim singer called Waqas and it was about, you know, learning about each others’ culture in that way of — It was basically going to be me and him just speaking to a bunch of scholars and imams, so it was kind of learning about it from a — And the question they wanted to pose was can we make fun, not of this, but with this. We interviewed an imam, and we were sitting in the mosque, and I was, like, asking him, “Would I be able to joke about this if it wasn’t mean spirited and if it came from a place of understanding?” And he basically said no. I’d asked my friend who’s Muslim, and I asked her — I don’t remember why I came to that, but I asked if animals came into — Because there’s a Danish song called, it’s a really old, like a really proper folky song called “Can You Bring Your Dog Into Heaven?” It’s this song where this old homeless guy singing [Sofie sings in Danish] and I was just thinking about that song, and I asked my friend, “Is there anything in Islam about animals and heaven?” And she said, “No.” And I had some kind of line about that, just a little joke or something. I told this imam, and he looked very stern, he looked very serious for a while, and I thought, “Oh, no, I don’t want to have offended him. I hope I haven’t offended him.” Then he smiled and he gave me a high five. [Aatif belly laughs] And I was like, “Aww, this is beautiful!”
Aatif: That’s amazing. A high five from an imam. I don’t think that even I’ve had that. I’ve had a few hearty handshakes, but never a high five.
Sofie: Yeah, well, I was, everyone was impressed. [Bakas?] did this thing, like, open-mouthed, like what is happening?
Aatif: This is a wide misconception about — I do this as well, right? I do this as well. I do these jokes in my stand-up, sometimes I feel bad about telling them, which is, I mean, I always follow — It’s just my luck, when I’m doing a comedy club like top secret or backyard or whatever, I’ll always end up following an act who’s overly atheist fundamentalist-type, you know what I mean? Or something really pushing some kind of religious boundary, and I’ll always have to follow them. I remember, actually, in Edinburgh, I was doing Just The Tonic’s midnight show and just before me was an act who does an impression of Jesus Christ. He comes out all dressed as Jesus Christ. I forget the act’s name now. I’m so, so sorry I forget his name. But he comes out dressed as Jesus Christ. Oh! Can’t Heckle Christ.
Sofie: Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about that.
Aatif: Do you know Can’t Heckle Christ?
Sofie: Yeah, it’s like this whole show where you can’t heckle him.
Aatif: So, audiences, he just invites them to heckle him and then he has things to say back to them. It’s really funny, probably massively blasphemous. I mean, I don’t know. I’m not an expert, but I found it really funny, and I was just sitting there thinking, “Oh, my God, now I’m going to go in there and I’ve got a bunch of Muslim jokes to tell, and how am I going to do that after this geezer?” And I always open in those situations with a joke, something like, “That was lovely. Did you enjoy the last act? I really enjoyed the last act, because I’m a Muslim, and we have a wonderful sense of humour.” And I’ll do it with a very straight, aggressive face, and they’ll crack up and they’ll lose their minds. But Muslims do have a sense of humour, even the Prophet, peace be upon him, Prophet Muhammed, he would laugh and encourage the companions to laugh. There was this story that Nabil Abdul Rashid was telling me about the Prophet, I can’t remember word for word, but he laughed so hard you could see his back teeth, is the example. So, people who are very serious, people who don’t like to laugh, and it’s nonsense. Even if you go to countries with massive Muslim majorities like Pakistan — Pakistan is the one that I relate to most because I am of that origin — they’ve got a massive history of culture and entertainment, and humour and comedy, and things like that, and it’s very sophisticated as well. I mean, stand-up as we know it, the western idea of stand-up comedy is something that is developing now, staged comedy performances have always been a huge part of our cultures. I try to bring that idea the most that I can to most of my stand-up. To be honest, I just want to do club-style stand-up comedy like, “Hey, who’s going to help me fold a fitted shirt?” some nonsense that Jerry Seinfeld would do back in the 90s. Oh, God, please take — Leave that out! That sounds awful!
Sofie: No, I don’t think it does.
Aatif: It just came out awful. Anyway, or leave it in, I don’t care. Jerry Seinfeld is totally overrated.
Sofie: I don’t think he listens to it, to be fair.
Aatif: Well, he’s missing out if he doesn’t. I bet he does. I bet he does. But I just wish I could do that kind of comedy, but I can’t. It’s my whole world, you know? Every time something awful happens in the world, my first thought is “Please, please don’t be Muslim” and it’s Islamic-related or it’s a Muslim person. I feel the need to stress the fact that I’m making you laugh, just remember I’m a Muslim person making you laugh, because there’s enough of the negative image I’ve got a chance to be, “Yay, laugh! See, I’m entertaining you! You want a picture! I’m Muslim, remember that. Just remember that Muslims do this, too.” Obviously, it’s not just me. There’s loads of us, like the guy who brought us together, Taz Ilyas, he’s fantastic at doing just that, I mean, Imran Yusuf, and recently Bilal Zafar, and Nabil Abdul Rashid I mentioned. There’s so many amazing Muslim stand-up comedy acts out there in the UK that have that religious aspect to their — not religious aspect, but they address the whole Islam situation in their stand-up comedy. I think that’s super important.
Sofie: Definitely. So, how… How did you react when — Where were you Saturday night when the attacks happened?
Aatif: So, you want like an alibi? Is that what — ? [laughter] Is that what you’re doing here? It sounded like that. Where were you on the night in question?
Sofie: We’re actually not doing a podcast. I’m from the police. [laughter] This is the way we’re doing it.
Aatif: I don’t mean to make light of it. I was actually having a really nice evening, having an iftar with my family —
Sofie: Which is when you break fast?
Aatif: Which is when you break fast. I keep just using terminologies. So, where was I? It was Saturday night, right? I was at my parents’ house. I think the Champion’s League Final had just happened, and so I was watching that with my dad. My dad went to the mosque to pray. I stayed at home to pray so I could hang out with my mum and my sister, and she’d made chicken chaslik, which is one of my favorite things to eat in the world, and we ate that. She made homemade fried chicken as well, in case anyone was wondering. So, we just sat there, we were eating, we were chatting, and everything was fine. Then my wife got a text message like, “Oh my God, something’s happened in London Bridge.” She works in London Bridge. I mean, not that night, but she does . She got a text, and it was somebody in Pakistan or something. I mean, the thing is, with Ramadan, you’re so detached from news and current affairs because you’re thinking about faith. I mean, I know there’s this general election that’s going to happen because that’s thrown in my face everywhere I go. I’ve made up my mind. I don’t need any more — Anyway. You don’t really look at the BBC website or Guardian or whatever your news source is. So, all these messages started pouring in, and then we just looked and it was horrible. It just put us into a complete negative frame of mind. I can’t help myself. I end up scanning social media and seeing a lot of negative stuff. I put a post just on my Facebook, because even — I noticed that even my very close friends are starting to say things that worry me, like, “There are Muslims who believe — “ I have to keep spelling out all these things. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, you know? But they’re all repressed, they don’t talk about sex — I’m like, “Are you crazy? There’s 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. How do you think that happened? Do you think it was all conversions? No, they know about sex, I promise you. They’re not repressed.”
There’s all these bizarre things that come out of it, and I felt the need to just say something. I put it on my Facebook, and I didn’t know it would get shared the way it got shared.
Sofie: What did you say in the…
Aatif: Word for word? I can tell you. I can just look it up and tell you. I was disappointed with, like — Normally when you put something on social media, and everybody can say what they say, right, but you want to get likes and shares. I put up a video, I think on Friday which is just a funny video and I went, “Oh, I hope this gets loads of views and likes and shares.” And it got, like 90,000 views and I was really happy, and Saturday morning I posted on Facebook, “Oh, this got 90,000 views. I’m very excited.” Now, this has 760 likes as I look at it just on my Facebook profile.
Sofie: So that’s been retweets of a photo of the screenshot.
Aatif: I mean, yeah, people have screenshotted it and shared it. It’s been shared like 417 times. Normally it’s like, “Yaaay! I’ve been shared and liked so many times!” It’s an empty win, you know what I mean?
Sofie: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Aatif: I posted this at half past midnight on the 4th of June, Saturday night, “Awful news in London tonight, hope the police hunt down these pathetic people before anybody starts any witch hunts. Remember it’s Ramadan. Muslims are in mosques praying for forgiveness and mercy. Muslims are with their families enjoying meals and praying after a long day of fasting. Muslims are helping the needy, supporting charities, and fundraising. Any pathetic excuse for a human being who has the time to take innocent lives doesn’t sound very Muslim to me. Stay safe, London.”
So, that’s it. It was just a very simple — It was just to remind — It’s a holy month for Muslims, and the first 10 days of Ramadan are about asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness, right, seeking forgiveness, being introspective. It’s not about protesting or whatever, you know? It’s supposed to be about introspection. The whole month is a celebration.
I can’t do stand-up during Ramadan. I’ve done it before. I just really struggle, because A, I don’t have as much energy, I don’t feel I’m super coherent, and I’m just not on my game and I want to be as good as I possibly can every time that I get onstage. I know a lot of Muslim comics do it, and they do it well, but I really struggle with it. So, what I tend to do is I go back — I do more stuff on TV and I spend some time fundraising for some charities a lot. I usually pick one charity every year and I support them for the month of Ramadan. This year, incidentally, I’ve picked a charity called Interpal who support the Palestinians that have been affected by the occupation. That’s just one thing. Another channel, I usually do stuff for Islam Channel. On all 30 days of Ramadan on the Islam Channel they have a live kind of telethon-type thing and it’s for a different charity and millions of pounds are raised every year. Millions and millions of pounds are raised to support so many different charities.
Sofie: This is kind of Ramadan, isn’t it? To give to charity?
Aatif: Yeah! Giving! It’s about giving to charity, and it’s part of that show, like, people will keep calling in and they’ll ask the people on screen to make prayers or tell the people who are watching the show to make prayers for or remember this person, or this person is going for a job interview, or this person’s got exams, or this person’s just lost somebody or had a bereavement, or this person, and it can be anything, and people just call in. It’s a big part of our faith, giving and charity and being generous and sharing the wealth and being a bit more egalitarian.
The guy who did that on Saturday night, it was so contrary to everything that Muslims are trying to do in Ramadan. It was so contrary that — And, you know, and the thing is, it’s not really for me to say if he was Muslim or not. Judgement is for God. If he was still alive, I would wish that the police would punish him to the furthest extent that they possibly could under the law, right? Because that’s what you do. As a Muslim, you’re taught to respect the law of the land which you live in as well. That person has done none of the things he’s required to do. I can’t conceive of a world where I would identify with this person. Do you know what I mean?
I mean, Paul Chowdhry put a video up the other day, and he’s not Muslim, but he put a really interesting video, where he talked about, it wasn’t about Islam, it was just talking about fighting and the basic principle of fighting is a fight — These people call themselves “freedom fighters” — A fight is between two people who look each other eye-to-eye, right? Or there’s — A fair fight is looking at each other, and you’re going to fight, right? It’s not stabbing random people who have no idea — Women and children with — It’s just — I can’t explain it. I was so upset about it that I was totally — And it’s when you do that transition, you know when you’re totally at peace and you’re very happy, and you’ve just eaten after a long — So you’re feeling good, and then you feel that. And I was distraught. I was totally distraught.
I was so excited about Sunday morning, there was Pakistan vs. India in the cricket, which is like, you know, one of my favourite things in the world to watch is the India vs. Pakistan cricket match. It only happens once every two years nowadays. So, so excited about that, waiting for it, waiting for it, and then this just kind of took all the steam out of me. I was still excited for the match, but I was still at the back of my mind thinking about it, and all these… My phone is ding, ding, ding, ding, ding with all these notifications and stuff. And you can turn them off, but then something else will come and it’s just — It really upset me.
I was talking to my wife the other day about it, and I was — I don’t know how to stop it. I mean, people keep coming on TV, we need to do this, we need to do that, we need to do this, and I know what sounds unfair, but I don’t know how to stop it. I just don’t. People will say, “What we need to do is educate, and then what we need is to go into the community, we need to do this and do that.” I don’t know! I don’t know, because the Muslim people I know, and I know a lot of Muslims. I’ve worked in Islamic media for a very long time. They’re nothing like that! There’s not a single view — There’s never a time when I’ve been in a situation with one, any of my Muslim friends and they said something and I’m like, “Dude, you can’t — What are you saying?” And sometimes it will be more of a cultural sexist thing that I’ll be like, “Dude, come on.” And the thing is, my wife, she’s a staunch feminist, so nobody’s going to get away with saying nonsense around her, anyway. But the idea is, like, I’ve never had anybody say anything that’s made me think, “Oh my God, we need to do something about people like that.” I don’t even know —
I watched that documentary. Did you watch the documentary on Netflix The Jihadis Next Door?
Aatif: I think it was originally run on Channel 4, but it was on Netflix. The Jihadis Next Door, I think that’s what it’s called. And it was one of the guys who did the attack on Saturday was on that documentary. I don’t think in a massive part, I think he was just barely featured.
Sofie: Oh, I hadn’t heard about that.
Aatif: Yeah, I saw it in a newspaper yesterday that he was featured. So, obviously, the British government must have had some indication that this guy is, you know, this guy’s out there, and apparently, they’re watching loads of these people at any given time. I don’t know how difficult their job is, so I don’t want to say, “You should have done better.” That’s for the politicians to do. But I feel like if they knew that this guy is capable of this stuff, and the guys that are on that show, it’s so clear — The show is done beautifully, the documentary. It really gives you an insight into how twisted their ideology is and how it became so twisted. They say to the guy, he had his passport confiscated, they say to him something like, “If you had your passport, would you go to Syria or to join ISIL?” He’s like, “Yeah, probably.” And he’s like, “Why?” And he’s like, “Because then I could live under Islamic Law.” He’s like, “What would that be like?” And he’s like, “Well, then I could just live there. It would be about me collecting my JSA, my Job-Seeker’s Allowance without me having to sign on every week.”
I was like, “Dude. Did you really just say — Have you ever thought through what you just said? Have you ever thought it through?” I mean, the fallacy of that whole thing… It depresses me.
Honestly, all I want to do with my time, all I want to do, is write jokes, right? And be happy, and find a way to make other people happy, and develop my career, because I have goals, man. I want to get on Live at the Apollo, I want to get on, like, Comedy Store Featured Act, something Imran Yusuf does on a Friday, you know. I’d like to do those gigs as well. I want to do the big massive arena tours that Paul Chowdhry’s doing. I’m really grateful to know all these people, but I have goals to be on their level, and I’m not there. I feel like every minute that I’m not spending — Every minute that I’m spending reflecting on this stuff rather than the comedy, which is what I really want, it just — It feels like, not wasted time, but just a poor use of resources.
Sofie: Yeah, I know exactly what you — [inaudible] You’re also very dehydrated.
Aatif: Why can’t you all just go away and love each other? Yeah, I’m probably dehydrated.
Sofie: Maybe it’s just that. Maybe it’s not the world.
Aatif: Only six and a half hours to go.
Sofie: Oh, wow. Well, I — Because I’m, because I talk about feminism and fatphobia and all of those things, and I’ve just been answering emails today from Danish media who are like, “What do you have to say for yourself?” Because all these Danish, atheist, sexist pricks like Danish comedians who — [Danish Comedian Name] — I’m just going to say their name — has just shared my status, because I wrote one status about how this isn’t about religion at all. I wrote one about how again it has nothing to do with Islam, and then I wrote one about how most terrorist are men, and it’s probably, like, a problem within masculinity.
Sofie: And those three tweets were just — Today, Piers Morgan retweeted one of them and it was… It’s just been a mess. But the Danish media wrote me, being really aggressive, like professional journalists from the Danish version of ITV were just like, “What do you have to say for yourself?” And I would answer things like, “I’m a comedian!” I became a comedian because I wanted to, because I love jokes and I love being onstage, I love —
Aatif: Being subversive.
Sofie: I just love being onstage, I don’t want — I never planned on — And people said that I wrote the tweets just to get attention. Like, I never wanted attention.
Aatif: You’re just a big Westlife fan. [laughter] That’s what you are.
Sofie: That’s all I’ve ever been!
Aatif: The thing is, it’s so annoying when people take things unbelievably seriously. There’s another couple of comics who, in the wake of the recent attack in Manchester and in London, they put political stuff out there. And it’s always been an overwhelmingly negative reaction. It’s almost like, because you’re a stand-up comic, you don’t know anything about the serious world. You know how to tell — Why don’t you go into your little pub, mate, and tell jokes. This is the box that certain people want to put you in, because your opinion isn’t valid, you know? You’re just a funny person. That’s it. At best, you’re just a funny person. They might not even like your humour. I’ve seen people, incredibly talented people get some real rubbish to deal with online. But that’s just like the world of social media. People are going to get to you. Having said that, ultimately, all they’re doing is building your profile. Because they tweet, you, you know?
Sofie: Oh, I’ve sold some — Because I’m selling my last show. I’m just getting — I don’t read the tweets, but I can see, like, oh, Piers Morgan retweeted, oh God. And then I can just see the emails, oh, someone just bought your show. Keep going! Thank you, Piers!
Aatif: Yeah, exactly! He’s trying to be all, “Oh, look at this one,” but what he’s actually doing is, “Look at THIS one! [Sofie laughs] Look at her! Oh, interesting! A comedian, oh, Denmark. You know what would be good on Netflix? A Danish comedy special. That would go down well.” It’s very difficult to see things that way, because you’re dealing with the emotion- because you’re a person, you know. I’m a very emotional person, so even when I get any kind of negative feedback, I think about it, you know. I can’t just be like one of those water-off-a-duck’s-back type people. I wish I could be more like Leo Kearse, you know that guy’s so brutal and brute, and he’s just, you know. He’s just nothing fazes Leo, he’s a big, butch grrrrrrr man. But I’m not like that at all. I like Leo. I like loads of comics who have different views to me. It doesn’t matter if they vote for the Tories or if they dislike certain aspects of my faith. That’s fine. I can still appreciate their work. I can still like aspects of their personality or spending time with them. But I just don’t like it. If I get a negative — I’ll think about it. I’ll sit there and think about it.
Somebody told me, Omid Djalili, to name-drop somebody famous, he said, “All you’ve got to do is just block and delete. Block and delete, block and delete, block and delete. If you keep getting negative stuff, just block and delete. You have enough of a following that losing 10, 15 losers every now and again is not going to hurt you.” But I find it hard. I want to reach out to that person and send them a message and be like, “Listen, why? Why? Let’s have a chat about this. Why don’t you meet me at Costa? And I’ll buy you coffee and we can talk about this.” But it’s probably an eleven-year-old kid who’s just got a new phone and feels like swearing.
Sofie: I think that if you really wanted to change these people’s opinions, I think you’re right. That would be what you wanted to do. But there’s a thing called self care, which is — That would take up your whole life. Don’t block them. Always mute. Because most of them just want attention, so if they see that you’ve blocked them, they feel like they’ve hurt you and they feel like they’ve won. So, mute them.
Aatif: But if you block them, they’re not in your world any more, right?
Sofie: That’s true.
Aatif: That’ll do. I don’t care what they’re thinking or feeling.
Sofie: That is such a good person. I’m like, “No one has to know.” [Aatif laughs] But then also, I mean, I’ve been trolled a lot, and I’ve reached the point now where their words don’t, really don’t matter.
Aatif: You get desensitised.
Sofie: Oh, completely. I don’t care. I really don’t care.
Aatif: Do you feel comfortable hanging up on a cold caller immediately?
Sofie: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Aatif: Like, immediately, like the minute you work out — Like the second you work out —
Sofie: The second I find out that it’s not a charity, that it’s some — I mean, if it’s like a phone company or a newspaper, then I’ll say, “Oh, no, sorry,” and then I’ll hang up immediately. If it’s one of those weird, like, you’ve been in a car accident things?
Aatif: Oh, yeah, PPI, like insurance things?
Sofie: Because I didn’t know that was a thing. For ages, I would have these long debates where I don’t understand — So, them I just hang up because that feels weird. Because I don’t have a car.
Aatif: But even then I feel terr — Sometimes…
Sofie: That’s nice of you, but I think once it’s happened as much as it has…
Aatif: Yeah. You get desensitized, right? You feel comfortable after a while just being, “Sorry, mate, I’ve done this a million times before. Good-bye.”
Sofie: What makes me really happy is that I’m not reading their comments at all, and I just love that they’re standing there unseen. And it makes me happy just posting the happiest photos of me smiling and hanging out.
Aatif: We do that in the toilets.
Sofie: Yeah. [she laughs]
Aatif: That’s really funny.
Sofie: And I know it’s really obnoxious to comics and stuff, but I will say things like, “Oh, I wish I could care, but I just woke up in this four-star hotel because I’m being paid to do comedy [laughter]. So I don’t really have time to care about all of your negativity?” Because you know Gabourey Sidibe, she played Precious. She got a lot of hate after I think the Oscars for what she was wearing, and she posted a photo of her in her private plane saying, “I can’t care: I’m too busy being flown on my private plane being a millionaire.”
Aatif: I have mixed thoughts about all of that. Because A.) Why are you only in a four-star hotel? What’s wrong with the fives? You need to talk to your agent, man, talk that stuff out. This is nonsense. We’re talking about someone who’s going to have a Netflix special off the back of a Piers Morgan tweet!
You know what, it’s really nice when you get to do these fancy things. I did this comedy tour in December last year and they put us up in beautiful hotels. Some of them had spas. So you’d always want to get there a bit early and stuff, like, soak in the Jacuzzi. I can’t swim, but I like to just paddle around the pool.
Sofie: Just keep afloat.
Aatif: Just keep afloat. I get some floats and stuff. But it’s just a really nice part of that thing. So, even if somebody has really negative —
Again, it’s the Muslim side of me, which is this phrase I always use: “Alhamdulillah,” thank you, God, every time I feel blessed, like really blessed. I could be anywhere. I could be in a refugee camp right now somewhere in the world. That could have been the life that God chose for me. He chose to give me this, this life of — it’s not luxury, I mean, I work hard. As a stand-up comedian, I promise you, I work very hard… for ten minutes a night. When you get these nice little perks the gratitude for it is amazing. Never take it for granted is what I always say.
Sofie: It’s also a weird thing about being a comedian where I’ve so often been in really fancy hotels having to sneak in a bag of carrots that I bought in Tesco’s because I have no money. Where you’re like, “Wow, I’m being flown this place. I know this gig pays a lot in three months. But right now I can’t pay rent.”
Aatif: Dude! Listen, do you know about tray charge?
Aatif: That’s the worst thing ever! You get back to your hotel room — I did something cool, The Scottish Curry Awards this year, right?
Aatif: Yes. Scottish Curry Awards. It’s a thing. I know. It’s a really weird thing. [Sofie laughs] It’s like this massive awards thing in Glasgow. So, they flew me out to Glasgow and they put me up in the really fancy hotel. The name escapes me, but it’s right opposite the BBC Scotland building. Really super fancy. Now, I finished this show, I didn’t really get a chance to eat or drink too much, as you do, because I was hosting the whole thing. I felt like Chris Rock at the MTV Awards. I did the monologue at the beginning and this or that. “You think your curry’s good, but my curry’s — “ It was very much —
Sofie: Doing awards is the best. I did the International Shopping Mall Awards.
Aatif: Oh, that sounds fun!
Sofie: It was so much fun.
Aatif: What won? What was the best one? Best mall?
Sofie: They had — They had a lot of separate…
Aatif: What were the categories, though?
Sofie: There was best design, there was best…accessibility thing? So there was, like, I think there was a mall in Prague or something that had —
Aatif: Loads of ramps everywhere.
Sofie: You could push a button or something, and it would say, “You’re here now, you can go straight ahead, there’ll be, like, Boots.”
Aatif: Ah, ok, for visually impaired people. Amazing!
Sofie: So, they had all these different… [Sofie laughs] But, I’ll tell you this, the person in charge of this, it was not her first language, so she had sent out an email where she meant to say, “If you win an award, we need to know how many people will be onstage so we can take a photo of you.” What she said was, “When you win the award…”
Aatif: Oh no! Oh nooo!
Sofie: So, everyone in the room thought they were — And you could see — It was so much fun in the beginning, because people were out for — Everyone had paid their own flights and stuff to come from, like, South Africa to be at these awards. And everyone thought they were going to win. I got a message saying, “Rush it. Rush it! Keep going.” And I was like, “Oh, what’s happening?” I just had to go, “And the winner is doo and the winner is dah,” because people were starting to —
Aatif: Oh, my God!
Sofie: There was almost a riot at the International Shopping Centre Awards.
Aatif: Wow. That’s awful! You got to be careful, man, with the categories. I finished the show and went back to the fancy hotel room. I know it was fancy because it had both Sky Sports and BT Sports. Which is, you know, it’s the dream. I wish I could afford that at home, but I can’t.
Sofie: Or a hair dryer that you can plug in.
Aatif: Yeah, no, they’re always just stuck to that thing. I don’t travel without my own hair dryer, because I find them too strong, and my one is, like, it’s got enough settings to — Today in London it’s so windy that I don’t need a hair dryer, but anyway.
All I wanted was a Coke, right? That’s all I wanted. A Diet Coke, actually. I called the thing, “Is the bar open? Can I come down and grab a Coke?” And they’re like, “No, the bar is closed, but if you want, we can deliver it to your room.” I was like, “That sounds great! How much is that?” And they’re like, “That will be 1.50 or something.” I was like, “Great, ok, no problem.” “And the tray charge is 7 pounds. Bye.” As he hung up. I was like, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Wai- What do you mean?! What do you mean, 7 pounds tray charge!?” So, that’s a tray charge. Come on, man! This is the thing. You have to think about it. Like, how thirsty am I? How drinkable is the tap water in the hotel room right now? Because it’s a tenner, and I’m not making that much.
Looks fancy to the world, look at this guy in his shiny suit. The truth is, I have only two shiny suits that I’m just recycling at these big corporate events. Oh, look at him, he looks so healthy and he’s lost weight. Because I can’t afford food! This is it, right? I’m trying to be as thrifty as possible, and any extra cash that I have, I like to try and get something nice for my wife or whatever, because why not? From Scotland. And it’s not like I go there once a year for Edinburgh Festival anyway, but yeah, there I was in Glasgow. In the end, I worked out that if I bought 4 cans of Coke, I think it was bottles of Coke, and a couple of packets of crisps it would kind of even it out. Not even it out, but it felt a little bit more like — It felt a little bit less like I was being totally screwed. But that’s it. Tray charge is the worst thing ever.
Sofie: And then you have tip as well.
Aatif: I did not tip that day. Maybe I should have. I feel bad. Sorry to the guys at whatever hotel that was. I forget the name. Maybe it was Park Plaza? I don’t know. Yeah, tray charge is the worst.
Sofie: I feel like it’s the most accessible conversation I’ve ever had in this podcast. A lot of people will be like, “Oh, yeah, I totally hate it when you have to stay at fancy hotels. You know when you do an awards show and — “ [laughter]
Aatif: I know, right?! I know we sound like “those” kind of people, but it’s like — To qualify, these aren’t the Oscars or the BAFTAs. We’re talking very specifically about the Scottish Curry Awards and the National —
Sofie: The National Coffee Awards or something.
Aatif: Really, did you do that?
Sofie: Or the Coffee Bean Awards or something like that. It was so specific. Anyway, I think one of them is — When people go, “Oooh,” like, this isn’t — Well, I don’t know about you, but this isn’t how I grew up. I grew up very poor. So when I go, “Oh, my God, look at this fucking hotel!” I’m not going, “Oh ho! Look at me!” I’m going, ”I’m like you guys, but this is happening to me, and it’s insane!”
Aatif: I kind of had that life before stand-up. I had a really good job, right? I was making decent money, I mean even my family, we’re not super-rich or anything like that, but we did well. Dad was very successful. He did well and he had lots to provide for us. I decided to give that all up, to start again from scratch, effectively. I had nothing. I had just some money in my savings account and a dream to be this stand-up comic/actor/… that was it, really. It was just stand-up comic and actor. The dream of one day hosting the Scottish Curry Awards! By the way, I should say it was a really fun night, in case they’re listening.
Sofie: If they’re listening, I’m available for all [laughter] curry awards.
Aatif: We could do it together.
Sofie: Oh! Like a double act!
Aatif: Yeah, totally! They do an English Curry Awards, as well.
Sofie: I’m going to get in touch with the Danish Curry Awards.
Aatif: You know that feeling of achievement? It’s like I’ve done, I’ve achieved something in this career. If you’ve got a job, and a regular job, and I’m not saying there’s no sense of achievement, there’s lots of — With the corporate world, for example, there’s a very clear ladder. If I do this and I do that, eventually I’ll get to be an assistant manager, or a senior manager, or a director, or a partner, or whatever. There’s this corporate ladder that you have but in this industry, the world of entertainment, or stand-up in particular, there’s no ladder! There’s no surefire right way to do — Ok, there’s things that you should be doing, like you’ve got to gig and you’ve got to go to as many of these, but there’s no guarantee of anything. I’ve seen some incredibly talented stand-up comics who’ve never made it beyond the club circuit. And it’s a shame, because you look at them and you think, “Oh, my God, you’re amazing! You’re one of the best comedians I’ve ever seen!” Equally, I’ve seen less talented comics make it big, but that’s not the point. There’s so many factors at play that — And there’s no hard and fast rule for how you negotiate this whole world, so when you get some semblance of success in this world, you get excited! And I think you’re entitled to it. I’m not going to feel bad about staying in a fancy hotel, refusing to pay the tray charge. Hate tray charge. HATE, hate tray charge.
Sofie: To get back — before we — This is so good. This is so good. I had two things about Islam that I really wanted to say, because at one point you said, “I don’t know how to stop this. I don’t know what to do.” I think you’re kind of already doing it in terms of you’re representing? And you are out there on stage in front of everything —
Aatif: Well, that’s what I can do.
Sofie: From, like, ten to I don’t know how many thousands of people you eventually have gigged to. I think that is a really important thing. Were you ever afraid of speaking about Islam onstage?
Aatif: No. The first show I took to Edinburgh was called “Muslims Do It Five Times A Day.” I had no idea what I was doing in Edinburgh, by the way. I was just kind of working it out as I was there. I didn’t know anybody.
Sofie: Was it in 2015 or was it ’14?
Aatif: 2015. I didn’t really know anybody. I knew, like, I mean, Taz was one of the only people I knew there, and he was so nice. He brought me into his friend circle. He brought me to dinner, and you were there, and Evelyn was there, and Kate Lucas, and there were so many of these people who are now my friends. It was really nice to get some advice, like, “What should I do? I literally have no idea.” And Bobby Mair, like, he was fantastic, he gave me the best advice ever, which was to hand out a million flyers, because that’s how you’re going to get people into your show. I just got very lucky.
But in that show, I talked about — It was about my life as a Muslim. And it was also kind of joking about it. I did this section about my top 5 fatwahs of all time, you know, Islamic rulings. There’s some really stupid ones. And I made the point: look, it’s ok to think they’re stupid. And they are! I don’t want to give them all away, because I haven’t done this bit for a while. Maybe I should bring it back. One of the fatwahs is: If you’re starving, it’s ok for you to eat your wife. [laughter] Yeah. I know! That’s an actual fatwah. I told the people who made it and which part of the world it was from.
Sofie: So, a fatwah is not — — Does it say that in the Quran?
Sofie: So, a fatwah, what is that?
Aatif: Some kind of scholar or person of authority in Islam will say, “This is a fatwah.”
Sofie: So, then, not necessarily endorsed by Allah.
Aatif: No! Not at all. This is just man-made rules that they decide to just create. Like, Ayahtollah Khomeini put one on Salman Rushdie for writing his Satanic Verses book. That’s not endorsed. There’s a lot of Muslims who don’t find him — who don’t like him. I’ve actually never read the Satanic Verses. It looks a bit complex and dull. I don’t know anything about the guy.
I feel like there are other things that we should be focusing on that are more important. And right now, Islam has a massive PR problem. MASSIVE PR problem. And this is something we need to address. Let’s do cool — And there’s people that do, you know, immediately. There’s a Muslim charity that, after the Manchester attack, held a candlelit vigil, they put together a fund, they raised God knows how much money immediately for the We Love Manchester Fund thing. Muslims responding immediately to make sure there’s not all this hate out there.
In comedy, I absolutely incorporate Islam. I wish I didn’t have to. Honestly, I wish I didn’t feel obliged to. I wish I could just joke about whatever I wanted, but at some point in one of my comedy shows, I will talk about Islam. I tell jokes, I’m not going to — It’s not going to be, “Right, just give me two seconds, guys, so I can give you a little UN-style speech.” It’s going to be jokes, it’s going to be an anecdote, it’s going to be something, because that’s all I know how to do is tell jokes, to be honest. Or write jokes. I was really amazed, because over the course of 20 something, this is the year that you won, right?
Sofie: Yeah. I had no idea what I was doing either.
Aatif: You looked like you did. I saw your show, I’m pretty sure you knew what you were doing. Because I remember trying to find your venue.
Sofie: Oh, it was awful.
Aatif: It was the annex of something. The Coat Room’s Annex? Was that what it was? I was trying to find it.
Sofie: Yeah, they changed venues 5 times.
Aatif: Yeah! It was on your poster. I thought you were doing 5 shows a day! So, I was looking for your thing, and I couldn’t find the venue. It was in the middle of nowhere! And I go in. There’s nowhere to sit down. I have to go up into the balcony, because there’s 200 people sitting, watching your show. They found you in the middle of nowhere. And apparently, this was just a regular thing. So, I’m pretty sure you knew what you were doing.
Over the course of the 24? 25 shows? I think I did 25 shows. I think nearly 2,000 people in total had come to see it. And it was a show nobody had heard of. I’d been mis-listed in the guide because of the Freestival thing. I thought I was going to get nobody, but in the end, the power of the title, and the good reviews, and word of mouth, and so many people came to see it. It was amazing. I’m still — That goodwill is still with me now. Last year, I was in the Newsroom which is not very central. You’ve got to go across the bridge, right? Basically, towards the shopping centre and that.
Sofie: It’s basically in Narnia.
Aatif: But even there, I had it full every night pretty much. Give or take a couple of days, I had it full every night. And that’s a lot of people: “Yeah, we came to see Muslims Do It Five Times A Day last year.”
Sofie: So, is your audience primarily Muslim?
Aatif: I wouldn’t say primarily Muslim, but there’s always a chunk. There’s always like 20–30% of them that’s Muslim. Almost always.
Sofie: Only! That’s pretty cool, then, isn’t it?
Aatif: There’s people that will come and see my comedy that have never been to any comedy show before. I will be their gateway stand-up.
Sofie: I get that. Like, in Denmark, I get that. People will say that they’ve never watched any other comedy.
Aatif: There you go!
Sofie: It’s pretty fucking cool.
Aatif: It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege, as well. It’s a lot of pressure! Like, “Oh, wait, hold on. So, you’ve never seen Richard Pryor, or Chris Rock, or Dave Chapelle — ?”
Sofie: Good. Don’t.
Aatif: “ — Or Bill Burr, or — “
Sofie: Don’t do that. [Aatif laughs] This is the best thing you’ll see. Don’t watch anything else.
Aatif: Because you’re the gateway. You’re the marijuana. [Sofie laughs] Just stay away from the cocaine.
Sofie: But that’s why I like doing this, because I like… you know. I know my listeners would love you, but I wouldn’t know where they would have necessarily heard of you from. They’re not into stand-up, you know? So, this is so great that they can…
I had one more question. Oh, time is running out. Two more. Ok, I have two more questions. One is, and it’s a bit… When something like that happens that happened on Saturday, what are your thoughts — Does that change your perception of your own safety?
Aatif: It probably should. It doesn’t, because I a chill guy. Generally, I’m quite a chilled out, very relaxed… I’m not really an aggressive thought person. You have to get me into a very specific set of circumstances to feel aggressive or whatever —
Sofie: On the road. When you’re on the road.
Aatif: Yeah, when I’m on the road. If you cut me off on the road — ! Oh, ah, good Muslim, good Muslim. I probably should feel a little bit, because I know there’s a lot of people that just the views that the kind of liberal, left-wing people are starting to have in the UK is quite frightening, but I’m still quite defiant. I have that defiance in me. It’s like, “No, I’m going to go and do my thing.” I’m not going to trim my beard. I’m not keeping a religious beard, I’m just, I was a bit lazy and now it’s just a thing. I’ll do everything that I want to do, and I’ll go wherever I want to go, and I’m not going to worry about these kinds of things, because I believe that whenever I’m meant to die, God has preordained that already. So, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. That’s not to excuse stupid behavior, that’s to excuse fear of a calamity or some kind of natural event happening. I want to live my life. I want to go to gigs. I want to go and perform, get onstage, get on TV, go pray, go to the mosque, go spend time with my wife, go to nice restaurants, go to theatres, go see other gigs. I just want to enjoy my life, and I’m not going to let anybody stop me doing that.
Sofie: That’s good. When… I feel like I know the answer to this, or just assume the answer to this, but just in case, because the thing that comes up is that — The thing that I’ve been hearing because of my tweets and stuff was a lot of people at least claim that in the Quran — I feel stupid to even ask — It says in the Quran to “kill the infidels and to oppress women and all these things.” Is there anything in the Quran that even insinuates that these things are ok?
Aatif: Again, I’m not a scholar, so I’m not going to say… I’m not going to say that I’m an expert on the Quran and no it definitely doesn’t and this is what Islam is about. I think, like any faith, that it’s something that is open to interpretation. But I think what you can say is that —
Let’s break it down to one at a time, so respecting women or considering women. So, at least two that I can think of off the top of my head Muslim majority countries have had female heads of state, which I don’t think that the US, which is the supposed land of liberation has ever had. They probably should have done. They had a very good chance, but they didn’t go in that direction. We had Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, and I don’t remember the lady’s name in Bangladesh. I mean, India has had a female prime minister as well. And I know that’s not a Muslim majority state, but because of its population, it’s like 300 million Muslims or something in the country. That’s just a small example of how women — Sometimes women are held back in Islamic majority countries, but it’s often cultural rather than religious. The wife of the Prophet would often lead a congregation, a male congregation of prayers. This is the legacy of Islam, and some people subvert that. It’s all very political and social.
Just in my life, I have never expected a woman not to be able to do anything that I can do or not be appropriate doing it, you know? My wife, she doesn’t wear a hijab, she doesn’t feel the need to dress in the Islamic — I don’t want to say uniform, but you know what I mean, right? It’s fine if people want to — For me, it’s her choice — I hate that there’s these committees that talk about what’s acceptable and what’s not. If it’s the woman, let her decide. It’s totally her call! It’s just the same — She’s not telling you what you should wear! You don’t need to tell her what she should wear or how she needs to do — She is perfectly capable of making up her mind. The Muslim world has worked to do, but also does get a bad rap for that, and it’s certainly not something that is grounded in Islam.
Now. Hating the infidel. One of the things — “Hating the infidel” is a phrase — Next year’s comedy show at the Fringe. [Sofie laughs]
So, from what I gather, this is all from what I gather. A.) You’re supposed to respect the rules of the country in which you live. If you want to like in an Islamic caliphate thing, there’s loads of countries that will have you at the moment. You can go and live there. But, if you’ve living in the UK, for example, or in Denmark, or in France, you have to respect the law of the land. Now, within that framework of law, you can lobby, you can protest, you can write your MP. There’s so many things that you can do within the frame of law. But Islamicly, you are supposed to respect that law. You are supposed to respect that law, and that makes it inexcusable to hate for the sake of hating.
I think what you need to do is — If you’re a Muslim person and you use it as a framework to live your life in the most positive — It’s about community. It’s about looking after people. It’s about being friendly, you know? Sharing a good thing so that there’s more good out there. I can’t give you specific instances, sadly, but I know that anyone that’s ever taught me anything about religion has left a very positive mark on me. And it’s always unconditional. This is the other thing as well, which I really like, it’s unconditional. It’s not like, “Well, this is it and now you must.” It’s “This is it, now it’s your call.” I like that.
Sofie: That’s lovely. So, I’ll ask you the last question, and then we’ll get to plug your show. What time is your show?
Aatif: Oh, my God. 11:15 pm.
Sofie: Ooo! That’s late! Ok, well, I can see it, then.
Aatif: At the Newsroom. Again.
Sofie: We’ve plugged it now. But we’ll plug it again in a minute. So, the last question is, and I ask everyone this: Imagine you’re holding yourself as a baby. You were just born, and you get to hold yourself as a baby. Now, babies are screaming and crying because they were just born, and everything’s terrifying. This is very new and scary. Everything’s scary, and they’re crying and screaming because it’s scary. Now, you know that there’s going to be moments in this baby’s life that are going to be scary. You know, but that’s just what life is. But you can say — You now know what’s going to happen to the point where you’re at now in your life, so you can say something to this baby. You can’t change anything. You can’t make it do something different. But you can say something to it about the world that it’s going to live in and its life. You can say anything you want. What would you say to yourself as a baby?
Aatif: That’s abstract, man. I’ve got to be honest here: I really struggle with hypotheticals. I guess I would say, “You’re gonna have a fun life, man. You’re gonna have fun. Don’t worry. Nothing is always 100% fun. Things are always bumpy. But generally, you are going to have some of the privileges that some of the people in the world don’t have. So, wherever you are in your life, remember to always be grateful.” I think that’s what I’d say.
Sofie: That’s so lovely.
Aatif: But again, I struggle with hypotheticals.
Sofie: Fair enough. [Aatif laughs] I think you nailed it. Absolutely nailed it. Now, what’s your show called?
Aatif: Ok, it’s called, “The Last Laugh.”
Sofie: The Last Love?
Aatif: The Last LAUGH.
Sofie: The Last LAFF. Ok, sorry, that’s my fault.
Aatif: The Last LAUGH. I’ll do it in an American accent. I think it might be the last time I do Edinburgh for a while. It’s a real strain, just because you’re thinking about it all year. I like the idea of being able to write a new hour every year and then do things with that hour and perform it and stuff and that becomes like my thing, but last year I was very lucky to get some very strong reviews, the year before that, “Muslims Do It Five Times A Day,” kind of put me on the map, and this year, “The Last Laugh.” A.) It’s the last show at the Newsroom, I think, so it’s the last, probably the last laugh you’ll have that night. And it might be my last comedy show there for a while. It’s weird, after all these years, I still don’t have management in the comedy world. I think a lot of people just assume that he probably does, because I gig a lot.
Sofie: I would assume you did.
Aatif: I gig a lot. I get booked for some really nice tours.
Sofie: Yeah, TV and stuff. From what I’ve heard, you hosted the Scottish Curry Awards.
Aatif: I know, right? Not everybody gets to do that.
Sofie: Someone would have wanted 12% of that!
Aatif: Just me and my friend Mani who hosted it last year. This is it! But then, part of me thought, “Well, you don’t really want — “ The thing is, the goals that I have, I do want representation to get them, because I can’t get on Live! At the Apollo by myself. Maybe I could, but it’s harder. It’s easier if somebody, you know — I certainly believe that I’m capable, and I certainly believe I am doing all the work that needs to be done. So, I’m hoping this year, at the very least, I’ll snag someone to manage me and guide me and explain to me the things that I’m not doing. Because it’s another part of knowledge, isn’t it, gaining knowledge. And take a reasonable cut from my vast fortune. They can also cover the tray charge.
So, yeah, The Last Laugh is 11:15 at the Newsroom. Everybody’s welcome. It’s free. It’s part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival, so it’s just donations and stuff.
Sofie: What’s your show about?
Aatif: It’s about my struggles in the industry, basically. So, it’s about kind of the gigs I did and where I had to go and the things I had to do to get to a point — Because it’s my 10 year anniversary, basically. It’s a chronology, almost, of starting. There’s little stories in there about performing to 3 people but it still being amazing fun, and there’s other stories about meetings that I’ve had at big corporations and — I don’t care, I don’t care if they listen to this, but, like, Channel 4 and the way they sold me a total lie, and ITV, who basically stole my concept, and some of the really negative experiences that I’ve had, but how they all ultimately led to me getting to a place where I’m actually quite satisfied and motivated, and so I have the last laugh.
Sofie: You just spoiled the ending!
Aatif: Well… it’s the journey, innit?
Sofie: We still want to know what happens.
Aatif: You know Frodo’s going to get rid of the ring, you want to know how he does it, right?
Sofie: What?! You ruined that as well!
Aatif: Did I spoil The Deerhunter for you? That’s what I was talking about. [both laugh]
Sofie: What’s your Twitter? Facebook?
Aatif: I’m @aatifnawaz in everything, so it’s just my name with two As. A-A-T-I-F. Aatif Nawaz on everything.
Sofie: Aatif Nawaz. Am I saying it right?
Aatif: It’s just a label, innit?
Sofie: It fucking is. [both laugh] Is there anything else you want to say?
Aatif: Thanks for having me, man. It’s always nice to be on a podcast. That’s rated above mine most weeks. Most weeks.
Sofie: Well, after this one…
Aatif: I’d have you, I’d —
Sofie: Oh! Your podcast.
Aatif: My podcast? Well, it’s called Aatificial Intelligence, because that’s my name. It’s clever, isn’t it? [Sofie laughs]
Sofie: So, go subscribe to that. And give that a 5 star rating and then listen to that.
Aatif: You could do one or the other. I don’t mind. It’s just 20 minutes of me rambling, basically. Well, it’s not rambling. It’s just 20 minutes every week, every Wednesday about what is going on with my life and what is on my mind. It doesn’t have a firm structure. I do it just for me. It’s for my — It’s not something I want to, like, I don’t have this idea to take over the world, or to get into the world of podcasting. It was just something that I wanted to put out that was a bit more personal. I don’t feel the pressure to be super funny or anything like that, though I’m told that it often is. The last one was a bit emotional because it was after Manchester, the Manchester attacks, but, and I suppose this week will be as well, but generally it’s just 20 minutes inside my mind, whatever is going on.
Sofie: Are you going to mention me in the next one?
Aatif: I will. I’ll mention that I did this.
Sofie: Go download it now.
Aatif: So, you should hear this. It’s going to be my Listen Of The Week.
Sofie: Ooh! Well, it comes out tomorrow.
Sofie: I’m going to stop this, because I’m running over. I’m running —
Aatif: I’m sorry!
Sofie: It’s not your fault! I just want to talk to you forever. Thank you so much for doing this.
Aatif: My pleasure. Thank you for having me, Sofie.
Sofie: Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved it. I loved it. I loved it so much. One of my favorite episodes. Please share it with people, especially people who don’t know Islam, I think. And I don’t know if anyone in our liberal bubble of the world don’t know Islam, but —
People like Aatif — Fuck. It’s so beautiful.
Anyways, thank you for listening. The rest — You can turn it off if you don’t care about me and the podcast. If you just wanted to listen, that’s fine. Turn it off now. From now on, it’s only for hardcore MOHpod fans. Hardcore MOHpod listeners: the people that I’m doing this for, the people that I love. Doing this podcast is my hobby, and it’s my favorite thing to do. I get to make all the decisions. I struggle with authority. Surprise! And I spend hours editing it, and doing the interviews, and emailing people, and trying to spread the word, and creating the website, and blah, blah, blah. So, hours and hours and hours. This is our podcast, like, us, the listeners and my podcast. It’s our thing. So, I cannot explain to you how much I appreciate your efforts to help out. It just gives me hope.
So, if you want to be part of that, if you want to be part of the MOHpod listeners, these are the things you can do: you can share the MOHpod on social media like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, whatever, just a post every once in a while. Tag it; we’re on Facebook and Twitter and all of that. Maybe do a guerilla approach and find a friend that you know would like it, and message them and say, “Hey, we haven’t spoken for a while,” or “Hey, I hope you are well. I was just thinking, I’m listening to this podcast, and it made me think of you because I think you’d enjoy it. So, let me know what you think.” That would be a — That’s a nice thing, isn’t it? I do that all the time with other podcasts. Leave a 5 star review on iTunes. That really helps. I don’t know why. It’s something about an algorithm or something, but it does help. And go to Patreon.com/mohpod, M-O-H-P-O-D, and you can donate however much you feel like giving. It is a free podcast. You don’t have to do anything. Give what you feel like it’s worth.
If you give me more than $5 per episode, you get a special thank you at the end of the podcast, which is me butchering your name, and it’s going to happen right now, because this week I would like to thank Kathy Plaxlebower, Robert Knowles, Eve Wingreth, Victoria Greer, Mani Byles, Olivia Hove, Zoe Cumberland, Joe C, Helen Galiad, Karen Threth — oh, fuck — Threthaway, Threthaway? I’m going to go with Threthaway. Russell Hughes, Edith Sigo Larrsen, Lucy, Inga Elingson, Imogen Wierson, Maddy Sell, Justine Hughes — JustinE Hughes, uh-oh, Andrea Papilon, Pa-pill-on, Caleb Milkwaugh, oh, no: Manex Gerst — Manix Gerstsach, Manix Geistsach, uh-oh, what have I just said? Jessica Stoolfire, Meg Jane Young, Emma Chan, Sylvia Novek, Georgia Brown, Cathy Bewbridge, Claire Emma Walton, Andy Wargen, Geraldo Ashenkronen, Claire, Danny Beckett, Fiona Richardson, Rachel Grey-Soothacat, Pilar Herald-Van Dyke, Emmie, Eleanor, Sarah Ferrera Ikeshied, Cherie Dunfie, and Daniel Ruthfersherd. Shied. I said Ike Shied and Ruthfershied the same way with two very different words. Sorry to Sarah and Daniel.
Thank you so much for donating and helping out! It means that I can keep doing it, and it means so much.
I want to thank Bailey Lenart for my jingle, and I want to thank Linda Brinkhaus for my logo, and Phoenix Artist Club and Peter Dunbar for letting me record my episodes there. I will speak to you next week. Bye!
Transcript by: Patricia Ash-Vildosola