‘Decolonise This’ is a stand-up performance with a taut edge. We’re here to follow the stupidity of racism as well as social class and a few other wicked ‘isms’.
But Omar Ibhrahim starts the evening in a chatty, cheeky and conversational style. He’s already on stage before the audience have even sat down, welcoming us with bhangra music from the Punjab.
He greets the audience as they arrive: “You’d better get a beer, or an IPA,” he advises.
That’s his style: to converse and develop rapport. Purple light shines onto a simple black stage with a minimum of props. It’s a full house with nearly 50 people huddled round the intimate semi-circular space. It’s tight, close up and intimate.
“What more do you want? Sing along!” Omar’s sure we’ll know the Punjabi words. Wailing sounds accompany the sitar music. He’s playing around, of course, but not always.
White activists often ask him: “What’s it like being a person of colour?”
He replies sardonically: “It’s very similar to being a person!”
Ouch! But Omar is never shy about looking the audience in the face. He’s alert to noises beyond the Caravanserai tent – one of the main venues of the Fringe. He takes on board the police sirens buzzing up Lewes Road then a few minutes later whining back down past St Peter’s Church.
“We’re surrounded!” But he’s used to it. “They drive past just when I tell them to!”
Let’s be clear, racism isn’t funny: it can certainly kill. On the other hand, Omar demonstrates the insanity driving an ideology that classifies people’s abilities and rights based on the colour of their skin. He debunks the bread analogy of race: brown, white, granary and rainbows of other colours too.
The old trope about getting right back to where you once belonged gets dusted off in order to be suitably demolished. Omar’s folks were born in Pakistan but he was too busy taking drugs at college to think about holidays in countries he’d never been to. His dad probably wanted him to get a steady job.
In that respect, yes the dream has come true! Omar is a regular stand-up comic at the Brighton Fringe and beyond! Mind you, considering his punchline wit about Colchester, he won’t be touring there for a while.
Omar describes himself as a “working class, mixed race, neurodivergent comedian who dislikes labels” but comes from a British-Pakistani heritage.
Were we, at times, a bit lost in the tales of marijuana and other recreational drugs he dabbled with at college in his youth? Yes, probably, but maybe that’s material for a different performance. We weren’t sure if drugs were going to get decolonised too. Well, there are limits.
Does it work as stand-up comedy with a serious face? Very definitely. It takes on tough issues about racism in this country, holds the stupidity and violence up to our faces, and makes us laugh.
By the end of the hour, the police sirens are silent but there’s lavish applause from the full house.
Catch the next performance on Sunday evening on 14th May at Junk Poets, Caravanserai, by St Peter’s Church.
Photos by Ali Wright