A peek into the inspiring journey of a multifaceted entertainer: An exclusive interview with Aatif Nawaz
Aatif Nawaz performing at the live comedy venue – The Glee Club Birmingham (Image by Instagram @aatifnawaz)
By Swarupa Tripathy
Aatif Nawaz is a true representation of success, having accomplished careers as an actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and cricket commentator.
The 38-year-old, who is of Pakistani descent, has become a highly sought-after name in Britain’s entertainment industry, with a noteworthy career that spans over a decade.
Having performed several critically acclaimed comedy shows at prominent locations and festivals across the UK; as well as making appearances on mainstream television, radio and podcast channels, Nawaz has not only made a name for himself as a stand-up comic, but also as a sports commentator featuring regularly on BBC’s iconic Test Match Special programme and BBC Sport’s cricket coverage.
He has established himself as a talented actor, renowned for creating, writing, and starring in BBC Three’s popular sketch comedy show ‘Muzlamic’, alongside other notable appearances on shows like ‘Bounty’ (Channel 4) and ‘The Tez O’Clock Show’ (Channel 4), as well as in national advertising campaigns for companies such as Easyjet, Vauxhall, and Stanley Tools.
Nawaz shares his personal story with The Asian Connect, reflecting on his upbringing, his path in the industry, and discussing the various doors open to those in the South Asian community interested in stepping into the world of Britain’s media and entertainment industries.
Can you tell us about your family and your childhood?
“I had a lovely childhood. I feel so blessed to have amazingly supportive parents who always encouraged me to pursue my interests. To this day I have a million different interests and we have such wonderful vibrant discussions about all things silly and significant.”
What are some of your favourite hobbies or pastime activities?
“I love reading a good book. And by good book I don’t discriminate – it could be a novel, a biography, non-fiction, spiritual, poetry…even manga and comic books. Other than that, the same as everyone really. Film, music, travel and sport.”
Over the years, you have become quite prominent in the stand-up comedy scene in the UK, could you tell us about your very first show and how you felt before going on stage?
“It was so long ago now I barely remember. But I’ve always held onto the feeling of privilege. The fact that you’re the designated person deemed well equipped to entertain the room. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Who has been a key figure of inspiration in your life and how?
“I have many. And they keep coming. In comedy Omid Djalili was always a huge inspiration. But there are genuinely so many, it feels like every week I come across someone who inspires me in ways little and large.”
What motivated you to take up stand-up comedy as a profession?
“I really enjoyed doing it. To be honest, I wasn’t very good in the beginning. But I knew I enjoyed it. And I enjoyed it enough to dedicate the time to get better, to hone the craft and I’ve never regretted it. It’s a wonderful way to make a living…make people laugh and smile.”
Stand-up comedy has become increasingly popular in the last few years, with many comedians enjoying a huge fanbase and celebrity status. What do you think the future of the industry is, and what can people look forward to?
“I think it’s always been that way. Social media has just made things quantifiable in some respects. But the world is wide open now. You can be sitting in a living room in London and enjoy someone’s work in Tokyo. It was a great joy for me last year to travel to Tokyo and meet some of the content creators whose work I enjoyed. Things just feel more open now. No boundaries.”
You are also an accomplished actor and television presenter, could you take us through your journey and tell us about some of the projects that you’ve been involved in?
“I’ve done small parts in loads of things. My favourite project was fulfilling a lifelong dream of writing and starring in my own show back in 2019. My friend and colleague Ali Official and I wrote and starred in ‘Muzlamic’ on BBC Three, a show that got a lot of attention. It’s a shame we didn’t do more of it. But it was very popular and in many ways, changed my life.”
You have also been increasingly involved in cricket commentary recently. How has that been for you?
“It’s been wonderful. Another dream come true. To sit alongside legends of the game, analysts and broadcasters I admire and get paid to watch and discuss the game I love…I mean…how could it be anything less than a dream come true?”
Image by Instagram @aatifnawaz
What are some of the barriers you had to face as a person of Asian background in stand-up comedy and the entertainment industry?
“I think I was reasonably lucky. There were amazing performers before me – people like Paul Chowdhry, Shazia Mirza and many others who kind of broke the barriers and made it less of an anomaly. Now-a-days, you see multiple South Asians on mainstream line ups and no one bats an eyelid. Of course, it wasn’t always like that.”
Was there any difference in the comedy and the entertainment industries in terms of how they welcomed you and your access to good projects?
“It’s a bit challenging. I think people like to compartmentalise other people. So generally audiences have struggled to reconcile my comedy work with my broadcasting work. But that’s okay. As long as they like one or the other, it works for me.”
Do you think that it is relatively more difficult for people of Asian origin to do stand-up comedy in the UK or has that changed over the years?
“Absolutely. Much easier. Comedy has exploded. Audiences recognise it as a great night out. Which it is. More shows equals more opportunity.”
What is your vision for the future in terms of your career as well as personal life?
“I don’t set myself too many specific goals. I’ve already achieved most of the things I wanted. I just want to keep working, keep enjoying my work and stay happy.”
As a popular comedian, what qualities, according to you, make a good stand-up comedian?
“I think the most important quality in any comedian, however talented or experienced, is to enjoy the craft. If you love doing stand-up, it won’t matter to you if you’re performing in front of 10 people or 10, 000 people. You’re just happy to do what you’re doing. The entertainment industry isn’t a meritocracy. There are no guarantees of riches or stardom. In fact, it’s incredibly unlikely. But if you love what you’re doing…you won’t care. Everything else is a bonus.”
What is your opinion on stand-up comedians exploring sensitive social themes in their shows?
“To each their own. It’s not for me to censor or lecture anyone on content. Audiences aren’t forced to watch or endorse anything.”
Nawaz is all smiles whilst on duty at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium (Image by Instagram @aatifnawaz)
Have you ever explored social themes yourself in your shows and what has the response been like?
“Mixed to be honest. But I never worry too much about audience response. I have to be sincere to myself. If I like something, if I want to say it…it’s going in the show.”
What changes do you want to see for the South Asian community in the entertainment and stand-up comedy industries?
“I think we’re already going in the right direction. We’ve long since evolved past stereotypes and small parts. I see South Asians leading and running shows and that’s wonderful. The more diverse voices that are out there, the more varied and creative our storytelling will be.”
Based on your experience so far, what advice would you give to the British Asian youth who want to take up stand-up comedy as a profession?
“Get ready for poverty. I’m kidding! It’s easy to get into comedy nowadays. A quick Google search will show you where you can go to start. Just enjoy it. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You don’t have to be the next Michael McIntyre. You just have to be a comedian.”
Are there any future projects/shows that you are looking forward to tell our readers about?
“I’ve just finished a 17 City UK tour, and just returned from Pakistan on assignment with BBC Test Match Special. I’ll be at various shows over the coming weeks and months. And you’ll no doubt see me on your TV screens again very soon. But if I had to pick one thing, be sure to watch my episode of Pointless Celebrities. That was really fun.”