Britain’s Got Talent’s Nabil Abdulrashid has opened up about being shut down throughout his career for speaking about race – including by comedian Micky Flanagan in 2010.
Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk, the comic revealed that when discussing his life on stage, comedy bookers and fellow acts have dismissed his performances as ‘only talking about being Black’ with ‘typical Black’ jokes.
Explaining why he found the comments offensive, Abdulrashid said: ‘You wouldn’t say all northern comedians “only talk about being northern.” So why is this okay?’
The Croydon funnyman highlighted how during one comedy competition he received similar feedback from cockney comedian Micky Flanagan, famous for his ‘out out’ routine. While judging ITV4 contest FHM Stand Up Hero in 2010, Flanagan suggested that Abdulrashid talked ‘a little bit more about not being a Muslim, or not being Black.’
Abdulrashid reflected: ‘This wasn’t even some personal advice he gave at a gig. He happily said that in a professional capacity on camera. And it made the edit!
‘Speaking about my experience was part of the reason why I wasn’t allowed to advance in an actual competition. That affected my career.
‘Even if it happened 10 years ago, it’s probably happened again and again in different comedy clubs since then. And it might still be happening now.
‘How many people have been denied an opportunity or made to work even harder simply because they were different?’
Abdulrashid added: ‘Black experiences are not all the same. I’m Black and Lenny Henry is Black – are we the same? There are so many different types of Black comedians.
‘I’m a Black man. I’m Nigerian. I’m Muslim. I went to a private school. So, the set of prejudices and environments I have experienced are different.’
A spokesperson for Micky Flanagan said: ‘As a judge on a TV talent show, Micky was providing constructive feedback on a competition 10 years ago.
‘Micky is delighted for Nabil’s success in making it to the final of Britain’s Got Talent and wishes him the very best with his career in the future.’
While Abdulrashid exited FHM Stand Up Hero in his first heat, he did earn the approval of Love Island’s Laura Whitmore. Then working at MTV, the TV host also appeared as a judge on the contest.
‘Nabil. There’s something about him, his presence on stage,’ she said about Abdulrashid’s performance. ‘I couldn’t help but watch him. And he made me laugh, which is what a good comic does!’
Although Whitmore voted for Abdulrashid to progress in the competition, fellow judges Flanagan and comedian Justin Moorhouse both backed another act.
FHM Stand Up Hero helped propel the career of eventual winner Josh Widdicombe, now co-host of The Last Leg.
In another comedy competition, Abdulrashid claims he was asked not to perform after another Black comic, Idris ‘Ola’ Gbaja-Biamila, as ‘people might get confused’.
‘The only thing we had in common was that we were African boys,’ Abdulrashid recalled.
‘We don’t look the same. We didn’t do the same material – most of his set was about being a born again Christian! I’m a Muslim!’
Although surging to success on Britain’s Got Talent, Abdulrashid – the youngest Black comic ever to play the Hammersmith Apollo – says he’s rarely been asked to appear on TV in the past.
‘I only got contacted to tick a box before,’ he said. ‘People don’t remember to book Black people on TV until it’s Black History Month or somebody says something racist. And even then, you have to watch what you say.’
‘You can never just be a Black guy with an opinion. The moment you speak up about something, you’re an angry Black man or an angry Black woman. Blackness is seen as something that’s aggressive.’
While the 35-year-old maintains many TV shows often overlook Black acts, he claims Britain’s Got Talent provides a vital platform for minority performers in the UK.
‘I would say that the panel of Britain’s Got Talent are probably some of the most helpful and fairest people in the industry,’ Abdulrashid said, referring to judges Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Ashley Banjo.
‘They’ve helped more ethnic minorities – people that a lot of big marketing companies will not find appealing.’
Abdulrashid also opened up about his feelings specifically towards judge Walliams, who was at the centre of a race row earlier this year. In light of the renewed Black Lives Matter movement, the author and comic was criticised for appearing in blackface during episodes of Little Britain. As a result, the sketch show was removed from BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Britbox.
‘Do I think it was a good idea for him to go and do [blackface]? Maybe not. But I don’t think David Williams is a racist,’ said Nabil.
‘He’s always been active in discussing Black causes. He’s been very helpful in the careers of a lot of Black acts.
‘While maybe it wasn’t a wise thing to do, I think that he should be given a chance to grow. He should be given a chance to prove himself as not bigoted. Which I think he has.
‘I’m not saying that I agree with it or that I disagree with it. I’m just saying there are bigger things to worry about than him.
‘I do understand why people are offended by blackface. But there have been worse things on TV. Instead of criticising comedians about stuff they’ve said, how about somebody looking at David Starkey talking about the “gang culture of Black London’”?
‘How about getting Boris Johnson to apologise for calling Black people “piccaninnies” and saying we have “watermelon smiles”?’
Despite now having a high opinion of the judges, Abdulrashid revealed that, after enduring years of discrimination, he initially had low expectations for the ITV show. Not only did the comedian believe he wouldn’t progress to the contest’s next stage, but he couldn’t even comprehend the moment when Alesha Dixon pressed her golden buzzer during his first audition.
Speaking about finishing his set to a standing ovation, he recalled: ‘I was thinking “let’s see how I get screwed out of a chance now”. And when they hit that buzzer, I thought that it was a “red X” to buzz me off stage! Then I turned around and I saw confetti landing, which is why I looked so surprised.
‘The emotion that you saw me letting out was 11 years of frustration of having doors closed in my face, winning things and not being given the prize and watching somebody else get it because they had the right complexion. All the times I’ve been ignored and had to work ten times harder than anyone else.
‘There was so much anger and pain that I’d been holding. I’d been doing stand-up my entire adult life and I just feel like I’d never got any of the respect that I feel like I deserve for how hard I’ve worked.
‘That’s what you really saw on stage.’
Britain’s Got Talent is available to stream on ITV Hub.
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