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Edinburgh Review: Isma Almas

Sunday, August 16 2009

Isma Almas' willingness to talk about her British-Pakistani Muslim background is a good thing, as is the writing, even if her debut performance is a shaky one, says Paul Fleckney.

I don't think a British-Pakistani Muslim female comic should necessarily have to do jokes about being a British-Pakistani Muslim female. Paul Sinha, 'the gay, Asian former GP' comic, has a brilliant show this year that makes virtually no reference to being gay, Asian or a former GP. But the sheer fact that Isma Almas does talk about these aspects of her life makes you realise how rarely you hear this stuff – and therefore how much we need it.

She has an insight and level of comfort most other comics don't have, and she takes her opportunity with both hands. She enters wearing burka and niqab – a clear statement of intent – and from there her autobiographical show includes jokes about arranged marriage, incest, racism, genital mutilation and her domineering father, all within the context of Islam. Can't imagine Jeff Green doing this. Or, unfortunately, Shazia Mirza, who seems more unwilling to share her perspective and to whom Almas must expect comparison.

It is all delivered with a Blue Peter-y cheeriness that contrasts the material, and relaxes the many who, let's face it, get uncomfortable around jokes on Islam.

The story of her upbringing pulls you one way then the other, and taught me a few things about Islam along the way. And Almas' best material comes when she isn't striving to be iconoclastic. For example, a re-working of Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love video, with women wearing full burkas instead of slinky mini dresses, is funny for a few seconds, but not as strong as the stories of her family living in Bradford. She has plenty of good material on how they combated local racism and tried to fit in (such as her teetotal Dad pretending to be drunk, and how Dad leaving Mum meant they were a one-parent family).

Almas comes across as the new comedian that she is; it is pretty clunky at times, but nothing a bit more stage time won't fix. Plus, there is courageous, good writing to be found, which makes this a promising debut.

Three stars

Isma Almas – Bombs is on until August 30 (except 17) at 2.35pm at the Stand IV. Click here for tickets.


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