It is not often that somebody can stand up on stage to candidly announce ‘This show will piss you off.’
Tez Ilyas’s Channel 4 late night show, The Tez O’Cock Show, has been amusing Brits through quips, sketches and healthy debates. Tez does not shy away from being a working class, Pakistani lad from Blackburn – and why should he? If the non-ethnic, middle class can bring their identity, opinions and background to the stage, then so can we. Diasporic identities take a welcome seat in the audience both at stage and at home while Ilyas presents a plethora of current affairs through mainly satirical commentary.
Before I continue, I would like to address that I have written critical pieces on Channel 4’s representation blunders. However, to their merit – The Tez O’clock Show is definitely a positive step in the right direction when it comes to representation that is not focalised through a white-narrative.
The diversity of structure is apparent in the medium of being on stage with a live audience and guests. Tez uses the simultaneous live audience and on screen dynamic to take every opportunity to present socio-political and socio-cultural concerns in comical, topical and conversational styles – all thematically relevant to both current affairs and ongoing associations of British-Asians which need to be dismantled.
Previously, I commented on Tez’s character, Eight who stars as the infamous sidekick to the protagonist in Man Like Mobeen on BBC. Guz Khan likewise makes an appearance in the Tez O’Clock skit segments, where he takes on numerous personas alongside Tez and Sindhu Vee, to offer cultural critiques in laughable, bite-sized scenes. I mention this trio because they really do gel perfectly to not-so-subtly use satire as a method of critique – which prompts audiences to engage with topical issues and perhaps even go away and research some of the things that are raised, such as the arms trade and national relations.
Also, Ilyas truly brings cultural tropes to the stage, both non-perceptibly and physically. Culture is manifested through the shisha café and mum’s home cooked food. His parents regularly make an appearance in the audience, and throughout the show Tez directly involves them.
Some people find it difficult to navigate the current political state of the UK, so its easy to think that seeing male and female Asian figures is a positive for brown communities. By far, my personal highlight of the series is Tez’s rundown on problematic representation, and how Sajid Javid and Preeti Patel are prime examples of how representation can be used to legitimise some of the sentiments that are harmful to the minority communities that they claim to represent.
The PBC segments and sketches are cleverly used to deliver critique on prevalent contemporary social issues and stereotypes. One particularly notable segment was the skit demonstrating a Caucasian voice filter. On the surface, it seems like a little in-joke about accents, however to many of the viewers it highlights the the perception of the working-class emerged vernacular of British South Asians. It places emphasis on the ability many of us have developed to converge regional and sub-cultural accents in order to sound like what the archetypal white Brit ought to sound like if multicultural English was non-existent, in order to be perceived as more socially assimilated.
Multicultural English vernaculars, particularly in the South Asian category, are often perceived as unprofessional and non-assimilationist, which means that Asian lads often become the brunt of the joke in popular culture. I like that this skit also made an Asian lad the focal point, but placed the butt of the joke on accent perception rather than on the speaker.
Its important to recognise that Britishness is not a monolith, and never really has been. Throughout the show, we are reminded of the stubborn divides that shape contemporary British society today; the leavers and the remainers, the northerners and the southerners, stuff about which spread should go on toast, in whatever order and, of course, how to pronounce the word scone. These trivial things indicate that Britain has never been at a perfect, pristine unchanged state.
Tez makes these scenes incredibly relevant to challenging misrepresentation, they raise issues of profiling in the ‘hipster conversion kit’, honing in on the irony of beard profiling and clashes between cultural appropriation and the perception of Muslimness. The skits demonstrate the effect that media language has on perception and profiling, and how easy it is to create disparaging images of marginal groups through pejorative language.
I was lucky enough to get Tez’s insight on representation in his show:
One of my favourite sentiments that you highlight is not all representation is good representation – how do you feel your show signposts good representation?
TEZ: I think representation should be positive, it should be about lifting people up. It’s not about having token representatives that are used to bash people from that person’s community, aka Sajid Javid – or just have a person who will fulfil the policies of an institution without question, but they happen to be a POC or a female or gay. For me representation is about diversity of opinion and thought and class, not just race and gender. In my show I really felt like we had different types of voices offering their own unique perspectives, but without it being tokenistic. They were all there on merit.
Do you think Tez O’clock makes a difference to the way people approach current affairs?
TEZ: Tez O’Clock wasn’t inventing the wheel, I took the existing rich heritage of satire and sprinkled my own fun on it. I hope that it engaged people who don’t really keep up to date with current affairs though… as I think it is important to, so it’s great if my show would get people who weren’t ordinarily interested in those things, more interested in them.
What can we do more of to amplify meaningful representation?
TEZ: When one is a position to offer opportunities, it’s really important that you do. Uplift people and remind other people to by talking about this issue. Government also needs to be lobbied to ensure that there are more opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in this country in every industry. It shouldn’t just be about what schools you went to and who your parents know.
Representation is not about being the first or last to do something, but is a combination of being a significant voice for marginalised identities, offering opportunities to help those communities thrive, and utilising public platforms to facilitate dialogue, change and allow non-centric identities a space to, well – exist.
Finally, I mentioned in another article on geo-politics how celebrities with a public platform can utilise their spaces to condemn acts of injustice, noting Hassan Minhaj’s acknowledgement of the political turmoil in occupied Kashmir. I would like to thank Tez for also taking a moment to raise awareness on Kashmir on The Tez O’Clock Show, Jazakhallah Khair, because if not to speak for the voiceless, then what is the point in representation.
– Article and Illustrations By Shazmeen Khalid