What does it mean to be British?

Being British means different things to different people, says rising stand-up Tez Ilyas who brings his Made in Britain show to Brighton's Komedia on Sunday, April 2.

Tez             Pic by Steve Ullathorne
Tez Pic by Steve Ullathorne

“I took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, and now I am taking it around the country.

“I am a British man and it comes from my cultural background that I have had a lot of experiences that I count as British experiences, but my parents are from Pakistan. Dad came to this country when he was six in the 70s, and mum came when she married in the early 80s. I feel very British, but Britishness means different things to different people. To some it means that they were born here. To some it means that they came here when they were very young.

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“But Britain is my home. I am from here. I don’t know anywhere else to call home, and I love it here. I love living in this country. But I feel we are regressing slightly. I feel that we are going backwards in some respects. Everyone is becoming a bit more nationalistic. People are becoming more jingoistic. There is an increase in populism. People are becoming less welcoming and less tolerant.

Tez reveals that he is openly… Asian. British Asian as well, which means that because he’s Asian he loves a chicken tikka masala, whereas, because he’s British he… well he loves a chicken tikka masala.

Tez has started to think on his Britishness, especially because over the past year he’s felt judged as both a Muslim and an Asian. Tez feels stuck between a rock (the traditional cultural values of his family) and a hard place (the liberal champagne socialists he now hangs out with) when truth be told he doesn’t fit in with either.

“I guess that people that feel strongly about having a more tolerant society have just got to keep banging the drum that it is the right thing to do. I don’t know how futile that is. Hopefully we can get people to choose the right way to think. But I do feel Britain has changed over the past ten years. Probably it is because of the financial crash. When money is tight, people start looking for scapegoats, and Johnny Foreigner is always the scapegoat. Liberal ideas are slightly under attack at the moment by people who take the line that what we thought the more traditional way of life is not right.”

All of which sounds very serious... and the show certainly isn’t.

“For me, what I want to do is to make people laugh. I see that as my primary job. For me, people have paid money for tickets, and I want them to have a good time. I don’t want to be trying to persuade people about my ideas and my thinking. I just hope that most people will enjoy what I do and that it will leave a lot of people thinking ‘That was quite interesting.’ But I would certainly prefer people to be thinking ‘That was really hilarious... and maybe quite interesting’ rather than thinking ‘That was absolutely fascinating... and also slightly funny!’”

Tez has bene doing stand-up for seven years this summer: “It’s pretty crowded out there, and I had no idea of that before I started doing Edinburgh. It is a steep learning curse. Lots of people are coming into stand-up, trying their hand... and why not! There is a place for everyone.”

Tez has appeared on Live from the BBC (BBC Two/Three), The Now Show (BBC R4), The Chris Ramsay Show (Comedy Central), The Nightly Show (ITV), Virtually Famous (E4/Channel 4), Man Like Mobeen (BBC Three), Safe Word (ITV2), Children in Need Comedy Gala (BBC R4), The Funny Thing About… (Channel 5) and @elevenish (ITV2).