Tell us about the show you’re bringing to the Glasgow Comedy Festival.
The show is on March 21st. It’s at a venue called Mango on Sauchiehall Street, which means post show there will be a big night out and it’s gonna be lovely. It is called 1001 Arabian Neds and it is based on the true story of my life.
Before I was born, my mother was in Abu Dhabi and, after finding out that she was pregnant with me, was flown from Abu Dhabi to Glasgow via the military. My dad remained in Abu Dhabi. This is the story of how I reconnected with my entire Arab family that I hadn’t met for 18 years and the madness that ensued coming into the Arab world after being raised with a Glaswegian background.
That was too long a blurb, but that’s everything it’s about!
This must have been a very personal and emotional journey. What made you want to tell that story through comedy?
It was honestly the reason I started comedy. One of the stories I tell in the show is the one I ended my first ever gig with. It’s a very personal story that I’ve been telling my entire life, since I was about eight years old. So by the time I was thirteen, I already had a solid five on it!
When I started comedy I thought I just want to tell this ridiculous true life story, being born an Arab Glaswegian in such a unique circumstance. When it came to turning it into a show for the comedy festival, I thought “right, I started doing this two years ago to tell this one very particular story that means a lot to me”. It’s also hilarious, and there’s also a wee bit of “growing up” pain in there that I think a lot of people can relate to.
On March 21st I’m going to tell this story in its entirety, from the grandparents right up to the present day. Once I’ve told it, it’s out in the world and I’ve finished the job I started comedy to do. I came to tell a story and I’m telling it in one big final go.
Did you any similarities or difference to be particularly interesting in your comparison between Scotland and Abu Dhabi?
The main thing I would take away is that there is an incredible similarity in nature between Arabs and Glaswegians. You wouldn’t think that at all.
Glaswegians and Arabs both have this external facade that they put up in front of your family and friends. It’s only when Glaswegians get absolutely steaming that we truly open up. But Arabs, because they don’t get steaming, they tend to open up and be who they want to be when they’re dancing.
From what I’ve saw – when Arabs go out and start dancing, they’re the life of the party. Glaswegians get to open up and express ourselves when we’re absolutely wrecked. The thing that links the two cultures for me is that we are these very expressive, emotional people but a lot of the time there is external facade like we don’t want to show ourselves to anybody. That’s present in both these cultures that are worlds apart.
How did it feel knitting those two cultures together on stage for everyone to see?
I know that a lot of times people feel pressured with they’re brought up with a different culture. Other times people might almost feel ashamed of it if they were bullied for it. They might love it when they’re with their family, but then try to repress it outside of that setting. Because racism exists in such a place like Glasgow, when you grow up from a different culture, there is an element of shame attached to it because people who don’t understand it force that on you.
The thing that’s different about me is that I wasn’t raised by my UAE family. I was only raised by my white Glaswegian family. So for the first 18 years of my life, I basically lived as a white person with a tan. I had no cultural knowledge, I had no cultural connections, I had nothing.
So when I turned 18 and got back in touch with my family, I was getting in touch with a family I’d never met before and a culture I knew nothing about. I lied jokingly about things when people asked. I’d say things like Arabs always take their left shoe off first, and people believed me even though I knew nothing about the culture, I just wanted to look like I knew.
When I went to Abu Dhabi, I got genuinely discover this entire world that I knew I was a part of, but had no knowledge of. I wanted to really embrace this culture because I felt like I’d missed out on it for so long. I wanted to absorb it and take in as much as I can, as opposed to oppressing it.
When I came back, I wanted to be able to tell people about Arab culture and I wanted to express it. I was excited about the fact that I wasn’t just white and that I had a chance to inform people, as I’m learning about it. I think it was a really good place to be in.
How did you feel coming into half of your own heritage as a fully grown adult having gone through your formative years without it?
I would say it’s important to remember that a lot of it is out of your control. When you’re young, your mum and your dad have control over most of your life. For me, this was a decision that me and my dad had made together. I had to actively go and meet a new parent when I was already an adult.
We had this weird dynamic of two grown men – because my mother is only fifteen years older than me, we’re not that far apart in age. Especially in Arab culture, when you’re 18, you’re a man, you’ve not been a boy for a long time. So I had to go as a full grown man to meet this other grown man and say “hello, I’m your son” and shake hands.
As an adult you have to work to take down that barrier and it’s must slower than if you were a kid. I think because I was 18 years old, I’d had my own experience and I’d established a sense of my own mentality, which made it much more confusing. But it also made it much more manageable.
Every time I went back, all that stuff just wore away. Instead of it being me visiting family and learning about their culture, it just feels like going home. I went back last September for a few months and it just felt like I was back living with family as if I’d never left.
I think, as a kid or an adult, it just takes time to connect with your family. Going over as an adult meant that I could do that far better than I could’ve as a kid.
What do you hope people take away from your show?
I want it to definitely be as relatable as possible. Which sounds like it could completely fail in Glasgow, talking about my Arab family.
But I think it can be important to anyone to think about what it means to be a family. You can hear about what I’m going through on the other side of the world and it might be no different to the relationship that people have here with family down in England. The world over, we have complicated relationships with our parents that we basically spend our lifetimes trying to solve.
I think that if people come to my show and hear such an abstract and unique story, full of things that you might never imagine happened, they might see it’s no different than to the relationships people have with their parents here.
I think it’ll be good. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, I don’t know. But I hope people leave my show with a wee tear in their eye and think “I might text my dad”. That’s above and beyond what I could ask for.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into comedy?
Absolutely I do! I started comedy two years ago last week, which means I know fuck all. But I’d say if you want to do it and you can’t stop thinking about it, you have to try it. You can be that guy in the pub at 29 years old telling people “I could’ve been a comedian”. Get it done now and prove yourself right.
You might not have the best time right away, but none of us do. I quit comedy after my second gig, I was that bad. I swore I’d never go back to comedy, it was too painful and I was too upset.
But I went back. If you’re thinking about starting comedy, give it a go.
You don’t need to dive right in and get up on stage in front of your pals. You can do a comedy course online and read some comedy books, do whatever you need to do to get yourself ready.
But just have a go at it. It’s better to embarrass yourself a couple of times than to spend the rest of your life insisting you could’ve made it as a comedian but never knowing. Give it a go.
Taryam is performing 1001 Arabian Neds at Glasgow Comedy Festival on March 21st.