Aatif Nawaz: That Natural High

Sunetra Senior Tuesday 07th July 2015 08:45 EDT

People are recommended improvisational comedy as a way of opening themselves up. Equally though, as Aatif shows us, the mike swings both ways. In order to be good at entertaining, you must first be true to yourself: “there shouldn’t be this abstract idea of ‘making it’, he stated, “you do comedy for the joy of doing it”. Whether it is the direction of his career- an actor turned comedian, the way he looks at British-Pakistani identity or the anecdotes he shares on stage, all is done so gustily, with such humility and insight implicit, that the feeling is contagious. Indeed, as Aatif prepares for his big show – and a definite highlight of his life- ‘Muslims Do It Five Times A Day- for every day of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we feel taken too by his gathering, upward momentum:

Tell us more about your new stand-up ‘Muslims Do It 5 Times A Day’?

It’s running from the 7-31st August at the Fringe, contains my sharpest stuff and the entry is FREE because I am confident in my ability. The tagline is ‘I’m trying to fight Islamophobia one joke at a time’. I’m setting out to challenge preconceived stereotypes and misconceptions.  I am a practising Muslim- I pray 5 times a day, I’m fasting currently for Ramadan – and I want to show that Muslims do have a sense of humour. Muslims and non-Muslims really aren’t that different. That’s the purpose of the name too: yes Muslims pray 5 times a day, but then non-Muslims also do a lot of things 5 times a day. I’ve performed great, sell-out gigs to multicultural audiences in London, but it is more for the western crowd; fostering interconnection in a way. I’m proud of the set- it’s heavier, it’s got something to say. I feel like it’s the hammer that can break that glass ceiling.

How did you get into comedy?

Acting was my first love, but I’ve always admired stand-up. The first time I performed was at an Indian dance showcase, in 2005. The CD wasn’t working and at that time it took 45 minutes to burn a new one, so I just took the mike and let a rip. After that, I got on the open mike circuit. I do presenting and pursue acting as well, but ultimately stand up is the most fun. It feels good to be the designated entertainer of an expectant, crowded room.

What attracts you to being on stage?

Eliciting a laugh; just seeking that raw response. I don’t know what a psychologist would say, but that’s what I feel! I enjoy being energetic too. I know stand ups that are more deadpan and do equally as well though.

Does the Energy come naturally to you?

It’s just exciting. It’s one of two standard responses. It might exhilarate you, or you’ll be a shrinking violet.

What’s your Style of Comedy?

Storytelling: I combine the puns with a deeper message.

You’ve been a Film-Maker too. Are you drawn to narrative material?

I suppose, but then it’s just the way I think. I just made the one movie- a documentary called ‘Postcards from Lahore’ and it was just about presenting this beautiful city most people don’t see. I was coming back to the city after an eighteen year gap. It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and I’ve had such positive responses, from London to Australia. I remember these French film students who were just watching my dad eat carrots!

Do you have a comment about the outgoing nature of your profession and the responsibility for cultural representation?

 There was a time when people might talk exclusively about Islam and stereotypes, but it doesn’t feel relevant anymore. In general, Islam as a subculture has assimilated well. So now it’s about being you. I have a perspective that’s wider than a Londoner or a Muslim, or an Asian. What I want to talk about is bigger: I talk about gay Muslims in my set, what’s happening in Lebanon- it’s all very progressive.

Favourite British sitcom?

The Office

What is your advice to other aspiring creatives?

Be dedicated to your craft: if you love something unconditionally, you won’t expect anything back.


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