BY LAUREN CODLING
TWO Asian comedians have spoken of their new BBC show as a reflection of their daily lives, with a healthy dose of humour.
Aatif Nawaz and Ali Shahalom are the creatives behind Muzlamic, a new sketch show which debuted this week and which looks to explore “modern Muslim life”.
The show follows an array of characters – including Mabz The Barber who becomes embroiled in a turf war in Bethnal Green, and two Asian work colleagues who attempt to “out-white” one another in their Stevenage-based office.
As the first British-Muslim sketch show ever broadcast on the BBC, the significance is not lost on either the two comics or even the audiences.
“People who have watched it are moved by the fact that it exists, that it reflects their experiences and values and is on this huge platform,” Nawaz, 34, told Eastern Eye at the BBC Broadcasting House on Monday (22). “To be part of that and for (the BBC) to endorse your creativity, it means a lot as an artist.”
Driven as a sketch show format, the 14-minute long pilot gives audiences a glimpse into several characters’ lives.
Why did the pair decide on this particular format?
Shahalom, 26, said the notion of being able to zip between locations and story-lines was creatively appealing.
“Being able to have a situation where you’re in a restaurant and then suddenly you could be in space was just magical to us,” the Devon-born comedian said. “We don’t have to contain ourselves.”
They were keen to touch upon as many subjects as possible within one episode, allowing audiences to relate to different elements of the show.
“The idea is to make a point, make it quickly and keep people on their toes and guessing,” Nawaz added. “A trend I see in stand-up comedy is comics getting to the laugh faster by making the joke more efficient.
“You get people counting punchlines and jokes per minute – a metric I never dreamed would exist.”
For Shahalom, playing the role of Mabz The Barber was a personal highlight.
“Playing Mabz was a joy,” Shahalom revealed. “I think everyone knows someone who is a bit like Mabz – someone who thinks a lot of himself, but who is also clumsy and loveable.”
However, while playing the east London-based character, whose distinctive accent plays a large part in the sketch, Shahalom would insist on staying in character during filming.
Unluckily for Nawaz, this meant he would have to endure ‘Mabz’ for hours on end.
“The whole time, Ali would be doing the voice…even when we were deciding what to get for lunch,” Nawaz laughed. “He’d be like ‘bro this and bro that’ and I’d be like ‘Ali, come back to me.’”
Asked about the timing of the show, Shahalom believes Muzlamic could have been aired years ago. It would still have been necessary and relevant to audiences, he said, to make sure that it was representative but also informative.
“We aren’t used to seeing ourselves reflected (on media) so when there is a whole show based on our truth and we have complete freedom and permission to go wild (…) the BBC trusted our vision and it is amazing to see this manifest into what it has become.”
Describing each another as “brothers from another mother,” the pair initially met in 2016 on a comedy tour.
The duo admitted they were “amiable, but didn’t think we were going to be best friends.”
It wasn’t until their second meeting, as they shared a car-pool to a show in Birmingham, that they felt a comedic connection.
Admitting the drive was “the inception of Muzlamic,” Shahalom added: “The moral of the story is that you should always share a lift with your friend.”
The pair also admit they have learned lessons from one another, in terms of comedy.
Nawaz is known for his live stand-up shows and has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and on the BBC Asian Network.
Meanwhile, Shahalom is a popular comedy vlogger, currently boasting 366k followers on Instagram.
“Ali, particularly on his Instagram, can take a subject and flesh out a character in 60 seconds,” Nawaz said. “I love that efficiency and it is what I seek in my own writing.”
For Nawaz, his friendship with Shahalom also brought new motivation to continue writing ideas for a show. Previously, he had attempted to submit scripts to networks on several occasions but had been consistently rejected.
“I think I’ve got around eight rejection letters at home (from the BBC) and I was a little jaded by the process,” he admitted. “But, Ali brought a new energy to it and I thought we should have another crack at it.”
The pilot is hopefully just the beginning for Muzlamic – the comics are ambitious and want the show to reach new heights.
But the ultimate goal?
“A Muzlamic Eid Special,” Nawaz said. “That’s the dream.”
Muzlamic is available on BBC Three/iPlayer now