Iris Interview: Nazeem Hussain of Legally Brown (SBS, Australia)

The Iris catches up with Nazeem Hussain about his new show, Legally Brown, which is currently airing on SBS. Putting politics and culture directly in the line of fire, Legally Brown is a hilarious comedy and who best to find out more, than from the man himself?

Thanks for your time Nazeem! So, you’re one episode down (at least in terms of what audiences have seen). How has the feedback been for the show so far?

The feedback has been great, we’ve had a lot of positive reviews for the show and people don’t seem to be turning off during an episode which is a good sign! It’s also really exciting to see people talk about their ‘favourite segment’ or ‘favourite characters’.

Has anything in terms of the reaction surprised you?

Yeah, I didn’t expect to be given a free burrito from a shop owner the other day because he liked one of the sketches. I’m hoping there’s more of that reaction.

Dealing with race relations can be a tricky subject, and certainly controversial. It can walk a fine line between being humorous to most and offensive to few and the other way around… how do you feel you walk that line?

We try our best to not trivialise racism or Islamophobia or whatever, but rather to make fun of the absurdity of it. Being able to laugh about stuff that normally makes us upset feels good, and I think if the comedy comes from a place of honesty or ‘relateability’ – it has the least chance of upsetting or offending.

Is it difficult translating that humour from the stage to the screen?

Writing comedy for TV is surprisingly quite similar to writing for stage; you need a clear premise for each joke or sketch, and you write around that. Though, with TV, there are so, so many more things to consider; it’s not just a matter of getting up on stage and speaking through a microphone, unlike stand up – you can’t just paint a picture with your words.

I don’t think the subject matter of the comedy is necessarily more difficult to write for TV compared with other topics.

With that in mind, is there anything you don’t think will make it to air – or already know won’t make it to air? Or have SBS worked well with you in that department, and trusted your own judgement?

There are a few sketches that we filmed that won’t make it to air. Not because they are too ‘controversial’ or ‘edgy’ for SBS, but because they didn’t turn out as funny as we thought they were on paper. Awks.

SBS have been great in working alongside us, they have provided great feedback and guidance and encourage us to use our best judgement.

Humour often allows audiences to address issues they wouldn’t otherwise talk about – what do you think is most important about the sort of humour you’ve made part of your “comedic identity”?

So long as my comedy is honest, and has some sort of connection to me, I think (hope) that people will be able to relate to it in some way, and that’s the most ‘important’ thing. If people are able to relate or find a personal connection to the comedy, then I guess that’s the point of comedy – to have a conversation.

New comedians often start off with silent rooms, slowly working their way up as they refine their craft – are there any stories to do with an awkward early performance that comes to mind? Or are you an exception to the rule?

Definitely not the exception to the rule. I’ve performed to rooms of people who have just stared back at me for most of the set. I’ve had sympathy laughs, sympathy claps, sympathy smiles. That’s the worst. I’d rather someone didn’t laugh, than give me a sympathy laugh. Actually, no – a laugh is a laugh, and you take what you can get.

Who are your three favourite comedians of all time?

Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Eddie Murphy. That was four.

And finally… what aspects of Legally Brown are you most excited to share with the public as we move through the series?

That’s like asking me to pick my favourite child. I don’t have children, but from what I’m told, it’s difficult to pick your favourite child. So the favourite child today are the ‘Social Experiments’. I am pretty excited about them, I think audiences will find the reactions from unsuspecting people particularly hilarious. You can look forward to finding out how people react to receiving a mail order hostage in a future episode.

Legally Brown is airing on Mondays on SBS.