Review by Patrick Martin
In an age of political correctness and savage over-analysis, it can be hard to talk about conflict and change without insulting at least some group or other.
However if you have lived your life in the cross-hairs of change and cultural conflict, you are in a better position than most to point out the irony, misconceptions and clashes which colour people’s lives.
And no one dissects these delicate moments better than Nazeem Hussain.
A first-generation Australian as the son of Sri Lankan immigrants and a man of Islamic faith, Hussain’s upbringing has been at the forefront of a changing multicultural Australia. But rather than seeing Australia’s growing pains –race, identity and Islamaphobia - as shock-jock radio fodder or personal vilification, he uses them as comedic inspiration to remind us that while we are different, we are still in all this together.
As Hussain opens his show Hussain in the Membrane by cheekily asking the full Studio 7 tent who is black, brown, white and religious, Hussain’s warm and infectious nature becomes immediately obvious. It is his genuine nature which makes his show work so well.
As he rattles off the similarities between the radical United Patriots Front and the marginalised Islamic community in Australia, it is not only clever humour but sharp analysis. As Hussain details an unforgettable boxing experience with a man who literally had his beliefs tattooed on his arm, he sees his awkward and ironic experiences as a new Australian as both inherently funny and educational; we can all learn something from our differences.
He speaks warmly about his Sri Lankan heritage, his problems paying for a house and the awkward relationship he has with his over-protective mother but then cuts back to discuss Australia’s favourite right-wing dog-whistle slogan "Love It or Leave It". An ingenuous man would not be able to cut through to an audience across these topics anywhere near as well as Hussain and he knows it. His comedy cuts through complex issues like a warm knife through butter and the audience laps it up as waves of warm laughter roll through the tent.
In Hussain’s eyes, Australia moves forward through frank open discussion and comedy – not through battles fought over difference. Despite surface differences, we are all very much the same and Australia is a funnier, warmer place because of it.
Nazeem Hussain – incredibly genuine, undoubtedly funny and a master of cultural comedy. Maybe if we all had a bit of ‘Hussain in the Membrane’ Australia would be a smarter, funnier and more welcoming place.