Why diversity on TV is no laughing matter
NAZEEM Hussain finds his punchlines in the everyday.
All the inspiration he needs is under his nose and the quirks of ordinary life are more than enough to fill a half-hour TV show.
The stand-up comedian and I'm A Celebrity favourite stars in Channel 7's new sketch comedy show Orange is the New Brown.
The short, snappy sketches poke fun at everything from The Bachelor to Real Housewives-like prison drama and an innocent game of charades that goes too far.
Even when he's making jokes about racism, Hussain doesn't use the show as a soapbox.
"All the messages are incidental," he says.
"If you're funny first, then all those things come out tangentially. When you try to make jokes about (current) issues through a sketch it's more tricky; audiences can get turned off a little bit.
"So long as my comedy is a reflection of what I think is funny, then people connect with the authenticity of that."
What Hussain, an observant Muslim of Sri Lankan descent, is proud of is the diverse cast he's brought into Australian lounge rooms on a commercial free-to-air network.
"To do a sketch comedy show on a mainstream, commercial network that has a cast that looks like modern Australia, that's a pretty damn big statement," he says.
"We're used to middle aged white dudes doing comedy on TV, so to see that space occupied by a different group of people shows the changing face of Australia. People are interested in a different type of comedian and tastes are broadening."
Orange is the New Brown features regulars Urzila Carlson, Becky Lucas, Matt Okine and Broden Kelly as well as guest appearances by Kat Stewart, Claudia Karvan, Tim Minchin, Gary Sweet, Firass Dirani and Sigrid Thornton.
"The best comedy is made when it's just you and your friends doing funny stuff," he says. "I called on friends to do stuff and people I've been a fan of like Claudia, Kat and Sigrid. I'd never worked with them before but you can tell they have funny bones.
"It was actually annoying because they're all great actors and they're funny. It was just so effortless.
"They were all super invested in the ideas. It's not like you get these famous people on and they just rock up on the day. They were coming into the writer's room, texting ideas and experimenting on the day. It was cool to see them so invested and committed."
Hussain, who has previously fronted Legally Brown and Salam Café on SBS, said he had more freedom writing comedy for a commercial network.
"The ABC and SBS have more restrictions in a way because of that balanced rule," he says.
"With Seven they don't really care as long as you don't make fun of their sponsors and I had no jokes about car companies so it was a freer space to do comedy."
The challenge for the 32-year-old is the lack of immediate feedback he's become accustomed to in stand-up comedy.
"The aim of the game when you're making comedy for TV is to make the people in the room laugh," he says.
"If the camera is shaking because the cameraman is laughing then you know you've done something right."
Orange is the New Black airs Thursdays on Channel 7.