BBC Sitcom – Citizen Khan
Those who fondly remember The Real McCoy, Desmonds and Goodness Gracious Me, will appreciate how long overdue a show like Citizen Khan was.
Whilst we live in an incredibly cosmopolitan society here in our wonderful UK, television is still somewhat stuck in a bygone era. You only need look at TV adverts and you will notice that there is still a tendency to use very pale or mixed race people as representations of ethnic minorities. East Asian people that barely look East Asian and other ethnic minorities with such pale skin that they barely look black, Asian or whatever; probably just enough to be able to say, look, we have ethnic minorities in our advert!
Then, along comes Citizen Khan; a show that makes no apologies for being brash, for representing a Pakistani Muslim family living in Sparkhill, Birmingham, with outdated wallpaper, plastic seat covers and a larger than life character like Mr Khan.
Mr Khan and his family make you laugh, make you cringe, make you realise that we are all so similar (regardless of race, culture and religion) and yet at the same time, so idiosyncratic. Indeed, it’s a celebration of what bonds us as human beings, our similarities, whilst at the same time reminding us not to pre-judge so quickly based on appearance.
LoveScene Magazine had the absolute pleasure of interviewing the main star and writer of the show, Adil Ray. Below we bring you the highlights of the interview.
Interview with Adil Ray
LoveScene: “What was it that you set out to achieve by making a sitcom like Citizen Khan?”
Adil Ray: “Well, really just to make a funny sitcom, really… I ended up doing it (the Mr Khan character) on Bellamy’s People, ‘s a sketch show with Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson, and it seemed to go down really well there and the BBC really loved a few characters that I was doing and asked me if I’d much developed Mr Khan, so it was just, it was kind of a natural, organic progression really but out of the desire to want to try television comedy.”
LoveScene: “So do you think you achieved what you set out to achieve?”
Adil Ray: “All I wanted to do was make people laugh. You wanna make a comedy that’s popular and make people laugh and I’m not bothered about whether it’s a cool comedy, an alternative comedy, a late night comedy… I just want it to be funny…naturally, being on BBC 1, that’s what it’s all about in the end…about being funny and getting as many people as possible watching the show and that’s just fantastic for me… The real sense of achievement for me…is the fact that I’m just doing something new and learning new things and learning how to act, learning how to learn lines, learning how to write a script, dealing with directors, working out what a sound technician’s job is, what a floor manager does, what second assistant director does…at a time in my career where I thought I would just be presenting radio and that would be my long-term thing.”
He goes on to say what a privilege it is to be working with the likes of Richard Pinto and Anil Gupta and Nick Wood, amongst others mentioned. More than anything he is happy to have grown so much as an individual due to the process involved in turning his vision into a reality.
LoveScene: “How did it feel when you found out that the BBC would have a second series?”
Adil Ray: “It was great, actually, it was a really good feeling… We weren’t ever that sure but we were quietly confident.”
Speaking about the support he has always received from Danny Cohen, Controller of BBC One, he goes on to say that he felt that if they did the best that they could, hopefully with Danny Cohen’s continued supported, a second series would get commissioned. However, quite understandably he continues, “But even still, you’re never sure until you get it…’til you see the email and then it’s kind of, wow!”
LoveScene: “What did you enjoy most about creating the show?”
Adil Ray: “Learning new skills. Working with Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto…I’m sitting there pinching myself, I’m learning so much from these guys.”
He goes on to explain that the road embarked upon is not without its challenges. When you listen to him discussing the mental blocks whilst script writing with his experienced colleagues, and the fact that he has to rehearse new scripts each week in order to film in front of a live studio audience (especially as the main character with the greatest number of lines), one can clearly understand the gruelling schedule he has been working to. What was nice about listening to him speak about this is that it affords us the opportunity to provide aspiring comedy writers and actors a very real wake-up call about the stamina, and both the mental and physical commitment and capacity required, to achieve what he has achieved thus far.
Adil Ray: “I firmly believe that if you really want something that bad and you’re prepared to put the work in, then it will happen, and it’s kind of happening for me and I’m grateful to all the team that are helping make that.”
LoveScene: “Despite the huge praise you have received, which you clearly have, I understand you got some grief from some members of the Asian community. What was their main issue and how would you like to respond?”
Adil Ray: “There were some complaints obviously, they’ve been well publicised…I’m sure it’s not just the Asian community… Comedy, in the end, is not going to please everybody all of the time….”
He quite rightly points out that there were many people from the Asian community that very much felt an affinity with the house decor or the characters whereas other members of the Asian community felt that Citizen Khan did not represent them at all, indicative of the fact that, as Ray puts it, “we are not a homogenous community, we are not all the same.” He continues, “As Muslims, as British people, as men, as women, we just have to constantly remember all the time that we are not all the same and we shouldn’t expect others to be just like us.” A very poignant message in a day where we are bombarded with embellished messages from mainstream media that seems to revel in painting Muslims in the same tarnished light as that of a few aggressors.
LoveScene: “Some people argue that you are negatively reinforcing stereotypes, however, here at LoveScene we believe comedy often does play on stereotypes. What are your thoughts on that?”
Adil Ray: “Yeah, well you know, pretty much every single great comedy character of our time has been a version of a stereotype.” He goes on to reference the stereotypical characters of Sam Malone from Cheers, Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers, Dell Boy from Only Fools and Horses, and Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave.
Ray also questions, “When people say stereotype, I’m not clear what they mean, which stereotype are we talking about?” He uses the example of the birds-and-the-bees chat that Mr Khan has with his daughter and the fact that people said that this was unrealistic. However, what Ray goes on to explain is that when you actually break down these social constructs, the stereotypes we as society have created, the “negative stereotypes” that some of the public felt affronted by are not even, as a whole, congruent. In other words, Mr Khan’s character initially draws people into a pre-supposed sense of what type of Muslim father and husband he is. Only, when the show delves deeper, you realise Mr Khan contradicts the stereotypical beliefs that some associate with a certain appearance, for example, a bearded Muslim man. Without doubt, Mr Khan’s character is a wise lesson for us all, judge not until you have bothered to unravel the truth about someone’s character, faith or culture… because every one of us is an individual and to judge all people as the same on the basis of their colour of skin, appearance, religion, profession, or whatever, is just plain silly!
LoveScene: “Who did you most enjoy working with on the set?”
Initially hesitant to answer the question, he eventually praises Shobu Kapoor (ex-Eastenders actress) who plays Mrs Khan, as someone who made him “raise his game” but reiterates that it was great working with everyone.
LoveScene: “What three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring comedy writers?”
Adil Ray: “Believe in yourself, be honest to yourself and just do it… If you really, really want to do something, you know, whatever it is, I think have that dream, really do believe that dream and believe that you want to do it. But be honest to say that you’re gonna work hard… In my case, for comedy, I just watched lots of comedy…read lots of comedy books, listened to lots of comedy on the radio…and listen intently to people around me who work in comedy or work in telly and just learn, learn, learn, and consume, consume, consume, and work really hard and write scripts and send them in and take the knockbacks and listen to people’s advice but also go with your instincts… Just give it a shot, because you’ve got nothing to lose.”
LoveScene: “Who do you look up to the most as your role model?”
Adil Ray: “Errm, oh, I’ve gotta be soppy now, my mother really…only because she’s a really independent woman and that’s something that I really admire…if you can…do things for yourself and stand up for yourself…in your personal and professional life, I think that’s really important and I think my mum does that really well.” He does, however, go on to say that he is a big fan of people like Imran Khan, renowned cricket player turned politician.
“I met him once and, you know, stroked his double bed when he wasn’t watching.”
At this point, laughter fills the room to which he responds, “I did!”
He talks of when he once interviewed him at his house at the time in Islamabad, Pakistan. Having been left alone for a few moments in a room where Imran Khan seemed to be working and sleeping, Ray decided to have a close look at the unmade bed in the room where he had been left unaccompanied, and proceeded to stroke the bed! Bless him.
LoveScene: “Who would you love to work with, in the TV/film industry?”
Although his humility initially led to the answer of anyone who’s been working in comedy longer than he has, a mere “six months”, when prodded for the name of someone he would absolutely love to work with, he replied, “If I could, I would like to work with Rowan Atkinson…I just think the guy is an absolute genius so, yeah, love to work with him…”
So, if you’re reading this and you can help Adil Ray turn his dream into a reality, then please pull some strings or at least mention him to Mr Atkinson and his network!
LoveScene: “For better or for worse, do you find that people treat you differently now that you have achieved fame?”
In response to this question, first a super cute laugh comes rolling back and then he explains that the beauty of playing Mr Khan is that the majority of the general public does not really know what the real man behind the mask looks like unless they’ve done their research. He continues, “Nothing’s really changed other than, actually…when I call even friends now, they no longer dump my call. Quite interesting. I think they’re always thinking, yeah, we’ll answer the call just in case he’s inviting us to, like, a party or something…a movie premiere… Before I would always get their answer phone messages.”
“So, you’ve become more popular with your existing friends basically.”
He laughs and agrees.
LoveScene: “Do you find that people of all ethnic backgrounds and cultures get the humour in Citizen Khan?”
Adil Ray: “…I have been inundated with people who’ve got in touch and said, you know, it could easily be a Jewish family; it could easily be an Irish family; Alia is just like me when I was a young catholic daughter doing things my father didn’t know I was doing so I think people find their own ways of relating to it, I think.”
LoveScene: “What can we expect from series two?”
Adil Ray: “Much more of the same, really.” He goes on to say it’s a family sitcom so the relationships between Mr Khan and his family members, Shazia and Amjad’s relationship, and of course, Alia. He talks about the world of Alia that we don’t see and how, for this reason, he finds her character especially appealing.
LoveScene: “Would you consider having Asians in the second series that have normal British accents?”
Adil Ray: “Erm, well, yes, why not, I think that’s possible.” However, he does go on to make a very fair comment that again highlights the social constructs we have created as a society by asking what a normal accent is. He also states that where you live in the UK will invariably determine the accent that you have and so if you are Asian and live in an inner city area then, like the Sparkhillian Mr Khan family, you are likely to have that accent.
Perhaps we will see some suburban Asians with Anglo accents in series two.
LoveScene: “What else would you like to say to the haters?”
Adil Ray: “Nothing, really. I’ve got nothing to say.”
Too right! Good answer!
LoveScene: “What else would you like to say to your fans?”
Adil Ray: “Say, thank you very much for all the support and, erm, and as much as I love the support, the real way of affectionately showing love and if you really want me to be happy, genuinely happy, is to go buy the DVD which is out 22nd of October.” He continues with more tongue in cheek and reiterates, “…fans, what’s all that, just go and buy the DVD.”
Funny, and telling it how it is!
At the end we decided to throw in a couple of personal questions about his love life, just to help out our readers who get hot under the collar at the sight of Adil Ray!
LoveScene: “Do you have a romantic interest that you can talk to us about?”
Adil Ray: “Yeah, I’m currently dating Salma Hayek…we haven’t seen each other for a few years…in my head, when I go to bed at night, she’s lying next to me.”
News to her, and a lesson to all Mrs Adil Ray wannabes; now you know his type!
When asked if he has any plans to marry someone one day he says, “Any Salma, yes at some point, if Salma doesn’t then any Salma I find….”
So there you are ladies and gents, a lovely guy, on a path he had not expected to be on, awfully grateful that he is, and enjoying the ride whilst he sweats his socks off! Talented enough to have received a commission from the BBC for a second series, he ought to be proud of his achievements and Rowan Atkinson should consider calling him about working together on a future project.
If you appreciate what he has done for ethnic minorities in the UK and abroad, for breaking down stereotypes, for getting people to look past their prejudices, for budding comedy writers, and for comedy itself, then buy the Citizen Khan DVD now!