Akmal Saleh is performing at the Manning Entertainment Center on the 9th July. Focus speaks with him about his comedy career: the good, the bad, and the boring.
I began my comedy career whilst driving Taxis. I was just trying to keep my job to pay the bills, but comedy was always the focus. I was obsessed with comedy then.
When I was driving I would have CDs playing of Monty Python, Richard Prior and George Carlen, and it was my favourite time when driving a cab because no one was there to disrupt me. I hated it when people actually flagged me down, because I had to go where they wanted to go.
> It’s very strange, but I am very quiet with people when I am not performing. When I’m meeting people I don’t know, I’m very awkward and shy, and I don’t try to be funny at all.
When people meet me, they are extremely disappointed, because they are expecting so much. Their faces just drop and I know that they are thinking, “He is pretty boring in real life.”
But I think you will find most comedians are like that. Most comedians I know don’t walk into a room and start cracking jokes. I think it’s more about absorbing everything they see, the people they meet and then letting it all out on stage. Comedians can also be very shy in a small group, but so confident in front of a thousand.
> If I wasn’t a comedian, I probably would have ended up in jail. I simply was just not good at anything. I didn’t really want a regular job, I was definitely sure of that – I wanted to do something interesting. When you are young, you leave your options open, and I could have gone in any direction … but I am so lucky that comedy picked me up.
> When I first started booking gigs, I went by the fake name of Peter. I think there was certainly a distorted perception going on with me. The Comedy Store when I was starting out in Sydney was very Anglo Saxon, and I think I was the only ethnic comedian among my peers.
When I first started out, I was scared of going by the name of Akmal Saleh, because it is such an awkward name. I thought the crowd would really hate me before I even took to the stage. I used Peter, because it was a really Aussie name.
> I have had people walk out of my show and never really found out why. Perhaps it’s the swearing, or the funny discussions on religion, racism and terrorism.
I talk a lot about these things, particularly religion, because of my childhood. I used to go to Sunday school and church, but the older I got the more I started realising that it’s very silly. Religion made great ammunition for my comedy. I found there was lots of stuff in the Bible that I could use for material.
But that’s what comedy is all about; you take your personal experiences and you turn it into a joke. And people sometimes have walked out saying I was blasphemous and there was lots of swearing … but I like swearing. If you don’t like it, you can go watch Adam Hill or someone nice like that. (Laughs).
> I have done TV, radio and stage … but standup will always be my favourite.
Nothing beats the thrill of being on stage for the people. It’s the only thing that really validates yourself instantly. With standup, it’s real, it’s raw and it’s you and no one else. That’s the thing I love the best, and that’s what I am best at.
> It takes a lot to make me laugh now. Very rarely do I find comedians funny – even the people I really love and admire, like Steven Wright. You know what it’s like? It’s like a magician. When a magician sees another magician, they are not so amazed. It’s more like, “How did he do that trick?”
I like real life comedy – like the news. The other night I found a story about how much the previous prime ministers had ripped tax payers off. I find things that aren’t meant to be funny, funny. Things that are presented in a bad way.
> I still feel nervous before each show. I always get edgy; I always get scared.
> I have had this recurring dream for the last ten years … that I am waiting backstage to go on, and the longer I wait, the more nervous I get. And by the time I go on, the crowd is already too drunk or half the people have gone home.
And another one where I am driving or running or flying or swimming to a gig, and I get completely lost. I guess deep down that’s my biggest fear – not being able to do my best for the audience. Because its very important to me, and comedy is a big part of my life and who I am. It’s what validates me, and without it, I don’t exist.
> Thank you Akmal.