In his new sketch comedy Orange is the New Brown, Nazeem Hussain unleashes on race, politics and pop-culture.
The 6 part series by Screentime is Seven’s first sketch comedy since 7mate’s Kinne but has won a primetime slot on the primary channel. Hussain admits to being take aback by the network’s interest in the show, which he also pitched to public broadcasters.
“I thought it was a waste of time because the commercials haven’t done much comedy, but Seven came back really quickly and said ‘This is good, can you come back with 12 scripts?’” he tells TV Tonight.
“It’s Channel Seven, who haven’t done sketch comedy in a long time”
“I thought it was a joke. It’s Channel Seven, who haven’t done sketch comedy in a long time. And the show has a bit of edge to it. So maybe I just really didn’t understand what Channel Seven were looking for.
“I saw Black-ish the other night, one of my favourite shows. So maybe they are going for an audience that traditionally they weren’t really going for?”
The ensemble cast features Urzila Carlson (Have You Been Paying Attention?), Becky Lucas (Squinters), Matt Okine (The Other Guy) and Broden Kelly, one third of comedy group Aunty Donna.
Having previously created Legally Brown for SBS, Hussain is mindful of the highs and lows or sketch comedy success on television. He is bracing for the audience response on Thursday.
“Australians either love or hate sketch comedy. There’s not too much middle ground. So you have to go all out and really make a bit of noise. With stand-up you can tell if the audience is finding you funny or not.
“With this show, you don’t really know.
“But if you don’t like a sketch just wait a minute and a half for another one!”
Sketches include a Real Housewives melodrama set in a prison, a Thor stand-in, and Bachelor parodies. Amongst the characters he plays is Sampath, a white-skinned IT expert. Yes, just weeks after the US debated outrage over ‘blackface’ Hussain underwent a 4 hour ‘whiteface’ transformation. Does that mean it’s ok for some but not for others?
“People can say what they want,” he suggests.
“I reckon it’s fine and I’m sure there are people who don’t reckon it’s fine.”
“The audience can decide. They can discuss and debate it. I reckon it’s fine and I’m sure there are people who don’t reckon it’s fine. They can write in the Comments section on Facebook:
“It was the first time I’ve been white in my life. I could get away with being on 2GB in the mornings!
“I still don’t know if it’s a good idea, so we’ll have to wait and see,” he admits.
“But you can get away with a lot in Comedy.”
Hussain and co-creator Johnny Lowry have certainly attracted some formidable names, many of whom were keen to exercise their funny bone, including Gyton Grantley, Gary Sweet, Tim Minchin, Kamahl, Kat Stewart, Claudia Karvan, Rhys Nicholson and even Sigrid Thornton as a lusty GP getting very intimate with a skelton.
“We didn’t ask her to do those ideas! She was the one who was more excited about doing them,” he continues.
“We would come up with an idea with someone in mind and then bring them into the room to brainstorm with them and get their voice into the scripts.
“So on the day they would be able to own the idea and be able to riff.
“They all came into the writers’ room at some point.”
“It wasn’t just ‘turn up on the day.’ They all came into the writers’ room at some point.
“Kat Stewart, Sigrid Thornton, Tim Minchin, would all call in on conference calls and texting throughout the week with ideas and lines.”
Hussain, who credits I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, as broadening his comedy audience, says the title is not to be taken too seriously.
“Nobody really knows what the title means but you immediately know it’s a comedy show. I guess if you were to break it down politically you could argue that ‘Brown people are Muslims, racially profiled, you might find them in Guantanamo where people wear orange..’ so Orange is the New Brown!,” he says.
But the bottom line is whether the concept is funny or not.
“Whatever is funny. No-one is safe, is the underlying mission statement.”
Orange is the New Brown airs 8:30pm Thursday on Seven.