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London Hughes, Bobby Mair And Gráinne Maguire Say Comedy Would Be 'Boring White Men' Without Immigration

'What is more British than your sense of humour?'

08/10/2016 09:03
London Hughes Bobby Mair Grainne Maguire
[From left] London Hughes, Bobby Mair and Grainne Maguire talk immigration, racism and why comedy needs diversity

Three comedians have claimed the British stand-up scene would be “just a load of boring white people making jokes” if the UK had less immigration.

Stand-up “would literally just be English white guys, in a room talking about being English and white”, says London Hughes, who was born in England after her mother moved from Jamaica. 

Hughes says she was once told “we’re not too keen on blacks round here” by a punter, and uses her own experiences for her jokes about racism. She claims she’s “not sure how we can have the curry as our national dish and still want to kick out all immigrants”.

Humour can make a serious issue like immigration less threatening by “poking fun of it and twisting it on its head,” she says.

Tensions over immigration have heightened after home secretary Amber Rudd announced plans to reduce the number of international students at universities, and suggested businesses may have to reveal how many foreign staff they employ.

Hughes, Bobby Mair and Gráinne Maguire told The Huffington Post UK Brits needed to move beyond “closed-minded fear” and accept that ‘Britishness’ - as well as our sense of humour - has been shaped by people from all around the world.

The trio, two of whom immigrated to the UK, were among performers at a comedy night this week in aid of the Migrants’ Rights Network.

Maguire, who immigrated from Ireland, says she used to often tell audiences she only moved to the UK “to scrounge benefits”, until the joke suddenly got a very different response after the Brexit vote.

She argues that “99% of the British comedy world is first or second generation immigrants, and what is more British than your sense of humour?”

Mair, who came to the UK from Canada five years ago, calls Britain “a rainy island with decent people.” He says Britishness shouldn’t equate to “closed-minded fear” and that Brexit was “a breakup made by a guy who didn’t want to look in the mirror so he blamed his girlfriend.”

HuffPost UK spoke to the three comedians about their backgrounds, being heckled and why diversity is key to making people laugh.

London Hughes
London Hughes

London Hughes, 27

Funny Women Awards winner and CITV presenter also known as ‘Miss London’

Tell us a joke about immigration.

My mum moved here from Jamaica when she was nine. She saw snow for the first time and thought someone was grating the moon.

What’s the funniest reason you’ve heard for why people immigrants shouldn’t come to this country?

Because Halal chicken is racist.

Tell us your story

I’m not an immigrant, but my mum was born in Jamaica. My mum and grandma lived in Jamaica whilst it was still being colonised by the British and they took that British mindset with them when they moved to the UK, so I’ve basically been brought up on traditional British values and jerk chicken.

What would your message be to those who say immigration challenges the British way of life?

Everything that makes us ‘British’ has been borrowed from other countries, from the Chinese tea we drink, to the Indian emeralds sitting in Queen Liz’s crown. Not sure how we can have the curry as our national dish and still want to kick out all immigrants.

Is immigration a good subject for comedy?

It’s a great subject, it provokes a reaction and makes people think. I like my comedy to challenge perceptions and stereotypes. I also talk about topics we can all relate to regardless of skin colour or cultural background. Comedy can approach a serious issue like immigration in a non-threatening way, poke fun of it and twist it on its head until we’re all ok with it and letting everybody in.

It comes up a bit when I talk about race in my stand-up. I was brought up in Brighton which at the time was a predominantly white area, I was the only black person in my school, I was the only black person in my area! Well, apart from Countdown Dave - the first black man on Countdown, he lived down the street. But growing up in that kind of environment was tricky, and hilarious, and I have more than a few jokes about it.

What effect has immigration had on British comedy?

There’d be no diversity, no new stories, comedy would literally just be English white guys, in a room talking about being English and white.

I’ve been brought up on traditional British values and jerk chicken London Hughes

How do audiences react if you bring immigration up?

Oh they laugh, they always laugh, they laugh because they know it’s true... All of my jokes about race and immigration are true stories that have happened to me, mainly because of other people’s ignorance or prejudice, and the best way to end that kind of ignorance and prejudice is to bring up, in front of hundreds of people and make jokes about it.

Have you ever been heckled or treated differently because of your background?

Yes, I did a gig in a pub in Farnham, near Croydon. It was me and an otherwise all male line-up, and one of the punters told me beforehand that I might have a tough time on stage. I wasn’t sure if she was talking about the fact that I was a female or black, but low and behold I did have a pretty tough gig. I had to work really hard for laughs which were bellowing out freely for the male comics before me.

I came off stage triumphant, but a bit confused, and got told by the same punter: “I told you you’d have a tough time, we’re not too keen on blacks round here, you deserved more laughs but it’s still a bit racist round here, sorry”. Safe to say I’ve never been back to Farnham.

What is your view on Brexit?

I voted Remain. I’m still in denial. 

Bobby Mair
Bobby Mair

Bobby Mair, 30

Canadian comedian who has appeared on Russell Howard’s Good News, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and 8 Out of 10 Cats

What’s the funniest reason you’ve heard for people saying immigrants shouldn’t come to this country?

Because they will destroy Britishness. Most great things here come from somewhere else.

What effect has immigration had on British comedy? 

Rich Hall, Henning Wehn, Katherine Ryan. All great and all from somewhere else.

If Britishness is that closed-minded fear then maybe it needs to change Bobby Mair

Is immigration a good subject for comedy?

Any subject can be a good one for comedy.

Have you ever been heckled or treated differently because you are an immigrant?

I mean I’m white. The answer is yes but it did not hurt my feelings.

Where did you or your family immigrate from and when?

I moved from Canada 5 years ago to be a comedian here.

How did you experience Britain? 

It’s a rainy island with decent people.

What would your message be to those who say immigration is killing ‘British values’?

I love it here. I am marrying a British girl next year and to those people, if Britishness is [seen as] that closed-minded fear then maybe it needs to change.

What is your view on Brexit?

I think it was a breakup made by a guy who didn’t want to look in the mirror so he blamed his girlfriend.

Grainne Maguire
Grainne Maguire

Grainne Maguire, 28

Irish stand-up comedian who wrote and starred in Radio 4’s ‘28 Dates Later’

Tell us your story

I’m Irish. I moved to London because it’s the world capital of stand-up, with only a dream in my heart and a knapsack full of joke ideas. I knew two people when I arrived and six months later, one of them moved home. Luckily I started doing stand-up really soon after I arrived so I had a ready-made community and never really felt that lonely.

Have you ever been heckled or treated differently because you are an immigrant?

I have a joke in my set where I say I, like most immigrants, I only moved to the UK to scrounge benefits. I’d been doing that joke for over a year, with every single audience getting the irony that was implied. Then, at my first gig after Brexit, I did the same joke and I could see a very angry man in the second row shaking his head, like I was finally admitting to our game plan all along. That was a very strange experience. 

Every time a non-British person like myself talks about their experience, you’re providing an outlook audiences may not have considered Grainne Maguire

What is your view on Brexit?

I didn’t know what way to vote; my love of socialism and the European project battling with my love of drama and total disaster. It’s not often as an Irish person that you get to be smug about other countries’ political choices, so it was a nice change. Ireland will never leave the EU, we get so much money from it. I’ve lived in London for ten years and I’m still collecting my farmers’ grant.

What effect has immigration had on British comedy?

Immigration is so important to the British stand-up scene. Without it, it would just be a load of boring white people making jokes about the time the Normans tried and failed to invade. The British stand-up scene is the best in the world because it attracts comedians from all over the world. It also has so many exciting varied voices reflecting all the exciting varied communities that make up the UK today.

Is immigration a good subject for comedy?

You don’t have to specifically tell the audience you’re talking about immigration. Every time a non-British person like myself talks about their experience as an outsider in the UK, you’re providing an outlook on life audiences may not have considered.

What would your message be to those who say immigration is destroying the British way of life?

Immigration created the British way of life. From importing the fruits of the Empire, to building your roads and staffing your NHS, I can’t think of many other countries that benefitted more from immigration. 99% of the British comedy world is first or second generation immigrants, and what is more British than your sense of humour?

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