As a Scottish-Pakistani Muslim raised in Glasgow, but a long time resident in Edinburgh, Lubna Kerr has enough trouble explaining her identity to intrusive strangers. However, she further complicates the picture by opening her show as her Aunty Jee, before occasionally referencing the character as she performs the bulk of her 45 minute set as herself.
Lubna Kerr, Classic Grand, Glasgow **
America Stands Up, The Stand, Glasgow ****
An intriguing gambit, with the outspoken, self-aggrandising Jee supposedly familiar with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, the alter-ego, like Kerr herself, is not without charisma. Previously described as “the Asian Mrs Merton”, the comic now calls her “the Asian Ellen DeGeneres”.
But whether performing as herself or the character, both are let down by mediocre writing. Although Kerr appreciates the comic possibilities of being racially profiled in airports and in America, the ignorance towards her she relates soon descends into clumsy caricature, neither detailed nor incisive enough to serve as satire.
Similarly, no-one with any empathy doubts the existence of Islamophobia. But jokes about Muslims being afforded a whole train carriage to themselves have been in circulation since at least the 7/7 bombings in London.
Where Kerr does show some promise is when she doesn’t force the punchlines and instead shares anecdotes specific to herself, rooted in reality. Given the domineering female presence of (the presumably fictional) Jee, ironically, some of the show’s wittier lines are attributed to Kerr’s mother. More genuine insight into the comic’s relationship with her children and ex-husband might also see her freed from the constraints of representation she projects on to others.
No such identity struggles at America Stands Up, the Glasgow Comedy Festival’s annual showcase of New York-based acts. In a diverse, crowded market, these comics require a strong sense of themselves to stand out and invariably know how to deliver a tight, 20-minute set. Understated but assured, Kate Willett could broadly be said to have two preoccupations: sex and sexual harassment. And she squeezes plenty out of both with a compelling performance that’s wry, topical and dryly perceptive. Refreshingly matter-of-fact about her occasionally chequered dating history, owning her missteps, the Californian capably hammers home gender inequalities and hypocrisies that persist, with an era-defining routine about how the porn proclivities of her lovers enabled her to predict the rise of Donald Trump.
Dina Hashem has also experienced her fair share of unwanted male attention, augmented by some substantial daddy issues, with her Muslim father unsuccessfully trying to control her behaviour from another country. Her progressive outlook and amiable manner doesn’t preclude her going dark, citing the selfish reasons she’d have voted for Trump and how she might kill herself to inconvenience her landlord. But the New Jersey native is enjoyably, gently provocative, her sharp, witty material on abortion based on fundamental inequality between the sexes.
A change of perspective from young, single women ultimately, headliner Greg Stone is in a long-term relationship but only recently married, his opening remarks an extended justification for that scenario. Portraying coupledom as a cosy yet dull safety blanket, this bullish performer offers a play-by-play account of a domestic argument he’s been having with his wife over three years. Very good at using his blowhard bluster to lay bare his insecurities, fears about his weight have prompted an hallucinogenic meltdown. And though he fails to ultimately arrive at a strong denouement, it’s at least a consistently funny journey to get there. - Jay Richardson