Omar Ibrahim plays it safe with a nice mix of one-liners, anecdotes and metatheatrical riffing. Armed with a gown (“If you’ve seen me wear this before I was high or going down on you”) and a notebook and pen we enter a space where we can refreshingly laugh at the absurdism of racism. Omar’s Pakistani via Ugandan heritage is played up as the VAULT Festival categorises the stand up as “Asian Voices.” Marketed as “an idiot’s attempt to further the cultural conversation… offering a unifying tonic for polarised times.”
The audience at the Crypt was largely white, and his writing acknowledges that. He jokes that we, the audience, are here to “learn”. The show is called “Decolonise This” after all. He talks through the nuances of cultural appropriation 101. At times these lessons clearly tailored to a less culturally aware white audience was a bit awkward because I’m having to laugh through a white person’s lens, but I do appreciate the challenge of politicised comedy which all race discourse must inevitably wind up as.
Omar lovingly pokes fun at white liberals, some of whom are his friends. He pokes fun at outraged “wallies” (woke allies) on the left who are quick to get offended on behalf of other communities. On the other hand, racists on the right are characterised as working-class cockney drunks. I worry that he exasperates a narrative which has caricatured anti-racists into privileged white liberals and racists as illiterate and uneducated. It contributes to the demonisation of working-class people which affect people of colour. However, he does end the bit on “wallies” on a serious note, questioning why some white people are so eager to save you. It may be that it is what goes unsaid is actually most effective.
The hour passes quickly, and I’m enjoying the gentle comedy: the anticlimactic listing of all the names he’d been called from “poo” to “paki”, the story of the policeman his dad met at the gym is hilarious and his relationship with his dad is very relatable.
The reparations piece got side lined by audience interactions and there is a theme of referencing drugs in the set, which is a bit random, although, you do get some good lines out of it,“you don’t get these eyes from drinking oat milk” seriously cracked me up.
It’s always a bit of a risk being a radical anti-racist going to a stand-up show. But all in all, it is entertaining, and the copy is pretty bang on, it is a “unifying tonic”. I’d recommend this as wholesome middle of the road comedy you’d feel comfortable bringing your colleagues to. It’s a great introduction to what can be a very heated conversation about racism and decolonisation.
By Tasnim Siddiqa Amin.
Follow Tasnim on Instagram: @tasnimsiddiqaamin & WordPress.
Omar Ibrahim: Decolonise This was shown from Tuesday 24th January until Friday 3rd February 2023 at the Crypt as part of this year’s Vault Festival. To find out more about the production, visit here…