What does it mean to be British?
As a Blackburn-born-and-bred Muslim of Pakistani descent, it’s a question that has been exercising rising comic Tez Ilyas perhaps more than most.
His debut show, Tez Talks, was an Edinburgh Festival smash, but his new one, Made In Britain, marks his debut headline solo tour.
While the subject matter is deeply personal to Tez, the questions of race and identity that it tackles are never far from the headlines.
‘I’m lucky that the first thing I write about is in the news,’ he says, ‘I say lucky, it can be a bit of a poisoned chalice, but it’s good that the stuff I’m writing about seems to be very topical.
‘I was talking with my friend yesterday and they asked if a genie gave me one wish, what would I wish for? And I thought I would go for not too much racism that I’m in physical danger, but enough racism so I’ve still got something to write jokes about – like a three/four out of 10 rather than a seven, and I think we’re slightly on the wrong side of that at the moment.’
I’ve always wanted to try and engage people, I want to challenge them in a more accessible wayTez Ilyas
Tez says he feels stuck between a rock (the traditional cultural values of his family) and a hard place (the liberal champagne socialists he now hangs out with), when truth be told he doesn’t fit in with either.
Does he ever find it difficult to integrate the different aspects of his background?
‘Not so much for me, but I think sometimes people’s perceptions can get in the way, like I don’t always do things that are typically British – I don’t drink, and sometimes people find that hard to reconcile . If you’re trying to go out and have a good time you can do it without drinking.
‘From my point of view though, I don’t see it as a challenge, or even an issue, really. I was born in England, I dont know anything else.’
Does he find that tackling racism with humour is an effective tool?
‘I think it can be, but unfortunately I’m in a position where, the job I’m in, I’m preaching to the converted, I’m preaching to the choir.
‘I’m probably not reaching the people who wouldn’t like me for who I am, which is a bit unfortunate, but I don’t know how I’d do that at this point in my careeer. If I could reach those people I think it would have even more of an impact.’
Tez examines the differences between reality and perception in his show. ‘Definitely, and that’s a lot of what I try and do – it’s trying to blur the lines between what people think about something and what the reality is, but to try and do it in a humorous way without alienating anyone.
‘That’s the most important thing – I don’t want anyone to come to my show and think this isn’t for them because my shows are for anyone, whatever creed, or what they do or don’t believe in – I want them to come to my show and enjoy it.
‘We live in a time now where there’s a lot of facts and information out there, but not so much wisdom, and if you try and ram things down people’s throats, it’s only going to strengthen people’s views. If someone’s got racist views and someone’s shouting at you: “You’re a racist”, it’s not going to make them change their minds.
‘I definitely challenge my audience, particularly people who might not have come come across someone with my background or experiences before. I wouldn’t want them to go away thinking: “I’m never going to a show like that again”, I want them to leave thinking it was challenging, but “you know what? I had a really good time and it’s made me think about things about differently”.
‘I’ve always wanted to try and engage people, I want to challenge them in a more accessible way.’
TEZ ILYAS: MADE IN BRITAIN
The Spring Arts Centre, Havant
Saturday, May 6