By Ninder Kaur
Citizen Khan returns for its fourth series. Created by and starring Adil Ray, the family sitcom which is set in Sparkhill, Birmingham will be following Mr Khan – our favourite loud-mouthed local businessman and community leader.
We caught up with Adil Ray to find out about the latest series.
Tell us about the new series? What can people expect?
Following on from the last series, Mr and Mrs Khan are grandparents. The final episode on Christmas, Shazia gave birth to baby Mohammed and this has changed the dynamics of the family slightly because they are grandparents. Mr Khan is left holding the baby and changing nappies and that kind of thing. Amjad, is kind of like the man of the house now, so Mr Khan starts to feel old and worthless, so we have those kind of general themes going on. Of course, he doesn’t try and stop being community leader and there is one episode where he is trying to be the town crier for Birmingham and meeting with the Lords and trying to be all posh. There is a moment with his grandson where he is trying to teach him cricket. He sets up a bowling machine and tries to teach his seven-month-old grandson how to play. There is a lot of fun and a lot of general family stories.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Growing up I was a big comedy fan whether it was ‘Only Fools and Horses’, ‘Fawlty Towers’ or ‘Friends’, I have always liked comedy and always thought about one day doing my own. I used to do a lot of different characters on the Asian Network and I find people funny and interesting. I used to see this idea of community leaders on the TV and I used to think- ‘Who are these people and how do you become a community leader?’
I thought let’s try and create a comedy character around that. It’s only then do you start thinking about the character’s wife and the family that you realise you can write a sitcom around that. It has been a long journey, but an enjoyable one.
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 with the show?
I think the whole point of a comedy is that you can’t please everybody, not everyone is going to like what you do and I think that is absolutely fine. If people feel offended by it, it’s not really my problem. I might be offended by somebody’s dress if they walked down the street but I don’t expect them to change it. We can’t live our lives worrying about what people think because the intent of my comedy was the intent to write something funny and inclusive. We concentrate on people who love the show and we get lots of Muslim people, mosque goers and girls who wear hijabs and non-Muslims who love the show. They connect with it. I think actually, that some people who didn’t quite get it in the early days have now started to watch it and thought – ‘you know what, it’s not what I originally thought maybe it is okay’ but there are some people who just don’t like it and that’s okay too.
Do you find that people of all ethnic backgrounds and cultures get the humour in Citizen Khan?
Of course. It is filmed in front of a live audience and it’s so mixed. We have a big white audience; we have girls in hijabs, the Sikh community and the Indian community. I got a letter from somebody from the Polish community saying they loved it and that it reminded them of their family. The show sells in India, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Bulgaria, Russia, other parts of Europe, so when you look at that, somewhere along the line we are connecting with a universal audience and that’s quite good.
People in the north don’t get your jokes. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know what northern comedy would be and how it would be any different. We don’t set out to write something midlands or southern based. It is universal comedy. If it connects with people in Russia and if it cannot connect with the people in the north, then they need to go to Bulgaria.
I heard someone the other day that came to one of the live shows and he was from Bradford and he was saying -I love this and we hear people complaining about the show so they must be from Birmingham or London.
Some people argue that you are negatively reinforcing stereotypes, however, we believe comedy often does play on stereotypes. What are your thoughts on that?
I agree with the second bit. It does play on stereotypes and not just comedy, but drama. These people think that we enforce a negative stereotype but what is that negative stereotype? What is a negative stereotype of Mr Khan? Is it because he is tight? A lot of people are tight. People say that about Scottish people and Welsh people. So that is not just a Pakistani trait and people generally say that about Dads. Jim Royle from the Royle family, he was tight and so was the guy from Fawlty Towers. What it all boils down to is that we are a new show and people are not versed into comedy. Comedy does play on stereotypes. Look at Bollywood movies and Pakistani dramas are they based on real life? No, they are stereotypes. Mr Khan finds out that nani has a boyfriend who turns out to be gay. He is accepting of that. That is not stereotypical of any Pakistani family I know of. That’s breaking the stereotype.
How do you think Citizen Khan has acted as a “counter-narrative” of Muslims to the world in the face of ongoing conflict in the Middle East?
I think things like Citizen Khan and Moeen Ali playing cricket for England, or Amir Khan boxing for the world championship, or Mishal Hussain being the host of the TV show on Radio 4 -all these things are part of the counter narrative and I think that it shows not all Muslims are the same. I don’t just mean that we are not all terrorists or that we are all out to kill each other. Amongst our UK Muslim community, we are entirely different. Some of us might be religious, some of us may not be, some of us may be more culturally Muslim and some of us may be more politically Muslim. I think it is really important that part of that counter narrative is to identify different types of Muslims having their own journeys and experiences.
What do you enjoy most about creating the show?
The fact that we have lots of kids who love the show, that’s fantastic. When we do our live show in front of the audience there are rows of kids that come dressed as Mr Khan. I get emails from schools inviting me to their classrooms to meet the kids and, that as cheesy as it may sound, has to be the single most important thing. Kids are seeing this bearded Muslim on telly, and for once, he isn’t a baddie and it is someone that they love and can say- ‘ I love that bearded Muslim, I love Mr Khan’ and that is really quite heartwarming.
Can we expect any guest stars?
Peter Bowles who was a legend from the 80’s sitcom show ‘To The Manor Born’ will be in the new series. Ronnie Ancona who did a lot of comedy sketches with Alistair McGowan and Tyger Drew-Honey who played the oldest child in the sitcom Outnumbered. So there is some kind of exciting guest stars there.
Citizen Khan is on Fridays at 8:30pm on BBC1.