Comedian Eshaan Akbar: ‘I want people to see the funny side of the Koran,’” by Samuel Fishwick,
Evening Standard, July 25, 2018:
Eshaan Akbar is a diplomatic provocateur.
The 33-year-old stand-up is one of the BBC Asian Network’s latest breakout talents. He first made waves on the comedy circuit supporting Micky Flanagan on tour in 2014 but now he’s wading into choppier waters. His latest set-piece, Prophet Like It’s Hot, aims to show the Koran “is actually quite funny” at the Edinburgh Fringe.
“If someone kills me for doing this, which a lot of people are worried about, I think it will at least make people sit up and take notice,” says Akbar, tucking into a halloumi burger at Bill’s in Kensington. “I don’t know if I want to die for my job — I’ve got plenty more shows left in me — but what a legacy that would leave, eh?”
Dangerously funny, maybe. But there’s plenty of humour to be found in religion, a fact that’s crucial to the show’s mandate of demystifying Islam. “Comedy is an integral part of making people think and feel differently about issues,” he says. “I want people to be challenged, have conversations and feel uncomfortable. Well, fundamentally I want them to laugh. They can feel uncomfortable while in a plush seat and not walking out, hopefully.”
Three weeks ago a woman came up to him after a preview show. “It turned out she was on that train at Parson’s Green with the bomber on, and had sat opposite him,” says Akbar. “She was in tears because she said that ever since that incident she’s struggled to reconcile her relationship with people from the Islamic community and the fact of what could have happened to her. So she cried and held me because she said I made terrorism funny. I was able to somehow make her laugh about a quite serious thing, and there’s something wonderful about that.”…
Yet Akbar hasn’t been a practising Muslim for years now. This, he says, grants him perspective. “I was raised within the faith but my mum said: ‘The lottery of life meant that you were born a Muslim. I’ll tell you Islam is great but if I’d been Jewish I’d be saying Judaism is great. The same if I’d been born a Christian’. So with that upbringing I was always able to respect everything.”…
Akbar still lives with his dad and brother but even that’s comic material. He’s written a sitcom — still in the works — about trying to find love while living with his “housemates”. “They have loads of sex and I get nothing in the show,” he says.
Based on real life experience? “Slightly. My brother’s got a girlfriend in America and he’s having more sex than me.” He laughs. “I get no matches on Tinder. None. Muslim Tinder however, aka Minder… oh boy. You can declare how religious you are on there and a lot of girls, when they find someone who’s not religious, they’re like, ‘Oh, hello’. I’m the bad boy. I never thought I’d play that role.”…