The Tez O’Clock Show sticks two fin­gers up at polit­i­cal correctness

A brown comedian fills Channel 4’s prime comedy slot! Could the next wave of British Asians since Bend It Like Beckham be hitting our screens?

Last week Boris John­son was announced as our (unelect­ed) Prime Min­is­ter. You know, the one who com­pared Mus­lim women to let­ter­box­es. A dark day. It’s fair to say that Lon­don­ers live in a lib­er­al bub­ble, but this was a shock that rever­ber­at­ed through­out the nation. He’s been called Britain’s answer to Trump – an adult baby with shit hair in the pock­ets of the estab­lish­ment – and now he’s lead­ing our coun­try. But while many heaved an uncer­tain sigh, one left-align­ing man sat silent­ly grin­ning to himself. 

Our first [day of] record­ing was the day we got a new prime min­is­ter, so this show couldn’t be more time­ly. I’m prof­it­ing off the mis­for­tune of our coun­try for my satire. I feel dirty!” says Tez Ilyas, the day after film­ing the very first episode of The Tez O’Clock Show – a top­i­cal one-hour satire show run­ning for three weeks on Chan­nel 4, cov­er­ing cur­rent affairs and pol­i­tics through sketch­es, light-heart­ed chat and interviews.

For a come­di­an who’s more at home on stage, this is scary new ter­ri­to­ry. TV is a dif­fer­ent ball game and as I sat watch­ing the show’s pro­duc­tion at the mam­moth dock10 stu­dio in Manchester’s odd­ly futur­is­tic MediaC­i­ty, I quick­ly realise the inten­si­ty of film­ing an hour-long show. 

Sev­er­al giant cam­eras, a rest­less audi­ence hun­gry for laughs and stretch­es of film­ing that last upwards of four hours. Then, of course, the pres­sure of hav­ing your Very Own TV Show. With your lit­er­al name in the title. Ini­tial­ly I thought it’d be a 30-minute show,” says Tez. Turned out they want­ed an hour. That’s a long time!” And who can blame him for feel­ing this way? He may be stood in front of an audi­ence, but we’re cued to laugh as furi­ous­ly as we can. His harsh­est crit­ics are sat on their ass­es at home. And if Gog­gle­box is any­thing to go by, we’re a crit­i­cal nation. 

In 2019 peo­ple are so woke they have insomnia”

Eas­ing the pres­sure are the right-hands enlist­ed by Tez: come­di­ans Sind­hu Vee, Sophie Wilan, Adam Rowe and Guz Khan who pro­vide sup­port dur­ing the show’s sketch seg­ments, as well as allow­ing for some play­ful back-and-forth for Tez. They were all my first choice. I thought about who’d be good to go on tour with and wouldn’t get over­ruled by the oth­er per­son,” he explains. It’s a notice­able dynam­ic through­out film­ing and rather than com­pet­ing for laughs they work as a team. Join­ing as the first guest was absolute­ly incred­i­ble” com­e­dy vet­er­an John Bish­op, who took it upon him­self to warm up the crowd with a quick stand-up before film­ing kicked off, and even sent Tez a text the next day to tell him how much he enjoyed the show.

While this may be new ter­ri­to­ry for Tez, it’s new ter­ri­to­ry for British TV, too. He is a Mus­lim man from Black­burn. His accent is in no way watered down, instead retain­ing that hur­ried, slight­ly jum­bled dialect com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed with work­ing-class Asian lads up North. His jokes are unapolo­get­i­cal­ly offen­sive. He rips the shit out of politi­cians, his own reli­gion and reg­u­lar­ly points out the warped men­tal­i­ty of Islam­o­phobes. More than any­thing, though, he holds a mir­ror up to soci­ety. I love the stuff that chal­lenges me and makes me think a lit­tle bit,” he says. Noth­ing I’ve said on stage I would apol­o­gise for. If peo­ple need explain­ing I could have a con­ver­sa­tion, but that shit is tiring.”

But how does this approach lend itself to the rise of poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous wok­e­ness? The gram is infest­ed with self-appoint­ed activists” call­ing peo­ple out, can­celling” them and gen­er­al­ly get­ting offend­ed, so much so that Tez bril­liant­ly says, in 2019 peo­ple are so woke they have insom­nia,” before going on to add I under­stand polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, of course. No one should be abused or harassed for things they can’t help, or for what they iden­ti­fy as, or iden­ti­fy with,” he says. But at the same time Tez knows there’s a boat wait­ing to be pushed because quite frankly, we all need to laugh at our­selves a bit more. There has to be room for a sense of humour, a bit of to and fro.”

Chan­nel 4’s 11 o’clock slot is the noto­ri­ous naughty hour. It’s well past the water­shed and you can say cunt (so long as it’s only once accord­ing to the pro­duc­ers). It’s where Ali G became one of the most con­tro­ver­sial pop cul­ture fig­ure­heads in the ear­ly 00s birthed through the – inven­tive­ly named – The 11 O’Clock Show, shown at, ahem, 11 o’clock. But how did Tez feel about fill­ing this arguably lucra­tive slot for any come­di­an on the rise?

I’m a big fan of Chan­nel 4 and all the things they put out at 11 o’clock. The Ali G Show, The 11 o’clock Show… I’m walk­ing in the foot­steps of giants like that,” says Tez. He might only be one episode in, but he’s already ful­fill­ing the rude, hilar­i­ous­ly offen­sive blue­print set by those before him. In his quick warm-up before the cam­eras start­ed rolling, he picked out four audi­ence mem­bers sat side-by-side – one man and three women. He launched into a light-heart­ed crack sug­gest­ing that the three women were his wives. Ouch.

A preva­lent theme in his stand-up shows is his own reli­gion, and when the world-at-large is so often knock­ing down Islam, he right­ful­ly reclaims it. And then pro­ceeds to throw it right back in their faces. His humour is very much inspired by his own expe­ri­ences. What he reads in the papers or lis­tens to on the news is repur­posed for satire. He’s a smart man, and that is with thanks to, in part, his jour­ney pri­or to the fun­ny business.

Tez stud­ied bio­chem­istry, fol­lowed by a job in the Home Office, which he jok­ing­ly claims he did for the visa”. His jests are laced in pol­i­tics and, as a Pak­istani Mus­lim gent, it appears he’s mak­ing it his one-man mis­sion to debunk the dan­ger­ous Dai­ly Mail head­lines read around the world. We know the far-right is on the rise both here and across the pond – but humour can be a way to edu­cate peo­ple with­out alien­at­ing them. That doesn’t mean Tez is about to fall into the trap of brown-man-mak­ing-brown-jokes any­time soon, though.

We’re hop­ing to make a space which will inspire a whole gen­er­a­tion of kids who don’t have to wor­ry about talk­ing only about being brown,” he says. And if they want to talk about brown things, cool. But also I hope there are peo­ple who come through who don’t feel like they have to.”

Why is this a prob­lem? Because Tez, like many of us, knows we have more to give than sim­ply re-hash­ing our expe­ri­ences of brown­ness for the sake of a gag or two. Same goes for writ­ers, same for film­mak­ers. But that’s not to say that our expe­ri­ences should be buried in a clos­et, to which Tez agrees, quick­ly adding talk­ing about what you know is unique in the indus­try – your expe­ri­ence of being brown or Mus­lim in this coun­try is unique.”

But while pol­i­tics is cen­tral to his gags – and show – it’s his hum­ble work­ing-class begin­nings in Black­burn which ignit­ed his sar­cas­tic, and at times dead­pan, style. His fam­i­ly were sat in the back of the audi­ence, and from some brief obser­va­tion, it was clear they’re a hilar­i­ous bunch, so much so that the come­di­an deliv­ers a fair­ly brave rev­e­la­tion. I am by no means the fun­ni­est per­son in my fam­i­ly. I guess I was the only one big-head­ed enough to make a career out of it.”

Their chem­istry became even more appar­ent. Tez’s sib­lings exchanged quick-fire jibes at one anoth­er, while his dad – a white-haired man with seri­ous poise – sat in the cen­tre, amongst the exchanges. From what Tez says, his father had a pro­found effect on him find­ing his comedic voice from an ear­ly age. Like father like son, Tez’s dad “[is] very un-PC and not very nuanced – he calls a spade a spade, so when things make him laugh he just laughs.” But he’s quick to big up the oth­er influ­ence on his comedic style, too – his home­town, Black­burn, which he claims is the most sar­cas­tic place you can think of.”

It’s only a mat­ter of time before we revis­it the gold­en days in which Good­ness Gra­cious Me and East Is East received rave reviews”

There’s been some­thing in the air since I spoke to Tez. For the first time since the ear­ly 00s, we’re see­ing a new cohort of British Asian come­di­ans, film­mak­ers, politi­cians and actors appear­ing before our very eyes. Himesh Patel played the lead in Dan­ny Boyle’s Yes­ter­day – a role which (shock!) didn’t hinge on him being brown. Gurinder Chad­ha of Bend it Like Beck­ham fame is back on the big screen this August with Blind­ed by the Light, the May­or of Lon­don is brown, and come­di­ans Nish Kumar, Romesh Ran­ganathan, Sind­hu Vee and, of course, our very own Tez Ilyas, are dom­i­nat­ing TV time.

It feels like the sec­ond com­ing of what hap­pened in the ear­ly noughties,” says Tez. There were great peo­ple on the cir­cuit who should’ve had the careers that Romesh, Nish, me and Guz all have, but they didn’t.”

We live in a dif­fer­ent cli­mate now. Sure the far-right are ris­ing. Sure the UK’s leader is Boris John­son. But some­where in the periph­ery, a legion of brown-skinned tal­ent is infil­trat­ing the main­stream. It may not be exact­ly where it should be, but with shows like The Tez O’Clock Show posi­tioned in Chan­nel 4’s prime com­e­dy slot, it’s only a mat­ter of time before we revis­it the gold­en days in which Good­ness Gra­cious Me and East Is East received rave reviews, and Pun­jabi MC’s Mundi­an To Bach Ke reigned in the charts. But this is by no means nos­tal­gic, oh no. This is a fresh, new coming.

Episode 2 of The Tez O’Clock Show will air tonight on Chan­nel 4 at 11pm

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