I still remember my first time stumbling across comedian Nazeem Hussain. I was in high school and spotted my sister crying with laughter while watching something on our clunky Toshiba laptop. “Basmah, you need to watch this,” she said, as she struggled to compose herself.
It was an SBS show called Salam Cafe and starred a number of Muslim media personalities including The Project panellist, Waleed Aly. But while they all brought their own charm to the show, it was Nazeem’s character Uncle Sam that really got everyone talking.
Dressed in shalwar kameez and sporting a long beard, the Sri Lankan/Australian comedian played on stereotypes that surround Muslim men, going so far as to run as the mayor of Camden, which at the time was running a campaign to stop the establishment of an Islamic school. Approaching people on the street and asking them uncomfortable questions, Nazeem’s skit lightheartedly pointed out the prejudice South Asian’s and Muslim’s face in their day-to-day life.
From there it was history. As he began gaining more traction within the Australian media landscape, Nazeem became somewhat of an unofficial spokesperson for South Asian and Muslim people in Australia. Everyone knows our media industry has a diversity problem, it’s no secret, but seeing Nazeem on our screens making everyone laugh felt like a huge step in the right direction.
Now, in 2022 Nazeem is making waves once again, touring the country for his latest live comedy show Hussain That?
“It’s a bit of a mixed bag of stuff. It’s centred on an existential crisis that we’ve all had collectively, I’ve had and Australia is having. We just don’t know who we are, and I don’t know who I am, and these last 18 months have given us a really good opportunity to ask ourselves some awkward questions. So I talk about a bunch of stuff including what it means to be Australian and whether we have uniquely Australian values,” Nazeem told The Latch.
If you’ve been to any of Nazeem’s shows then you would know they’re laugh-out-loud funny, and I’m not exaggerating. His jokes usually stem from personal experiences, retelling stories in a humorous way. Whether it’s about his trip to a racist predominantly-white town in America or raising his child in Australia, Nazeem’s comedy is charming and relatable. When asked about his process of coming up with jokes, Nazeem chooses to keep it simple.
“Honestly I just write. If I’m annoyed about something, I just write it in my notes on my phone and then like I’ll end up ranting about it on stage somewhere, and if it’s funny then it’ll make its way to the show,” he said. “Stuff that happens to me or things that bug me, I just try it on stage. I find the best way for me to process things that I find annoying or absurd is on stage in front of an audience. It’s a weird way to sort out your thoughts but I’m a comedian and we’re kind of bizarre like that.”
Previously working at PwC as a tax consultant, Nazeem left his corporate job to pursue comedy, saying he found his former profession “extremely boring”. And thankfully, it all paid off.
“I was just getting busier and busier. So there just came a point where I paused the office job for a while and I never ended up going back.”
But despite building a name for himself within the media industry, Nazeem is constantly confused for his friend and journalist Waleed Aly, who is one of the very few people of colour on Australian network television. At this point, it’s a running joke, but it highlights something much more problematic.
“I don’t just joke about people confusing me for Waleed, it happens to me all the time! It’s happened so often I can almost tell when someone thinks I’m Waleed and I’ll give them the Waleed impersonation and try to sound as smart as I can because I feel like I’m representing him,” Nazeem joked.
“Australian media has a massive diversity problem, and it’s so weird because there are only a couple of us brown men on television so you would think they would get it right. There’s only a couple of names to memorise! If you walked out on any street in Melbourne and then turned on the television, you’d think you’re in different countries. Television doesn’t represent the reality of Australian multiculturalism.”
While he doesn’t want to be someone people look up to, Nazeem has become somewhat of an ambassador for South Asian men and women, after all, he is one of the very few that is representing us on the small screen.
“I like that people like me, but I don’t want them to pin too many hopes and dreams on me about changing the media landscape because I’m a comedian and I will inevitably say something dumb that gets me cancelled.”
To purchase tickets to Nazeem Hussain’s show Hussain That? click here.