FAKE I.D. | Preview
12 – 13 Shaftesbury Square • 10 & 11 November
By John Patrick Higgins
Slight disclaimer: Joe Nawaz is a friend of mine. We do a podcast together named Stalemates which features our shared scorn for the modern world through the medium of fun facts and tired puns. It’s great. You’d love it.
This has no bearing on Joe’s new theatrical show, the bitter-sweet Fake I.D., an autobiographical study of race and identity, in a Northern Ireland that is trying to formalise its own identity. It played previously in the Belfast Comedy festival, and it is often very funny. It is now it’s back for a second run at Accidental Theatre’s Shaftsbury Square studios, once again directed by the redoubtable Emily Foran.
I caught up with Joe for a chat about it at the MAC. He was a mere forty minutes late.
Joe, tell me about Fake I.D.
“Though it was in the Belfast Comedy Festival it’s not strictly speaking a comedy, but, me being me I hate awkward silences, so I am constantly trying to break the seriousness of it with a sprinkling of jokes. There is some tough medicine in the show and there may be a degree of discomfort, so I like to mitigate this with laughter.”
The story of the show is that of the young Nawaz prickling with the shame of his dual heritage: his mother is Irish, his father from Pakistan. Young Joe, self-conscious of his otherness in a sea of white faces, sets off on a desperate, quixotic quest just to be like everybody else. His attempts are often awkward, wrong-headed and very, very funny.
“It is quite personal,” he says, “People came up to me afterwards and said: that was brave. I can’t believe you did that. But for me it’s not brave. It’s kind of addressing the imbalance of my youth, where I repressed all this stuff and I’m now at an age where I can start to make sense of it. I can now view it with a bit of distance and come to value my place in this society.”
He thoughtfully sips a cup of coffee. “I was always very sensitive to anything that would single me out as different.”
This is borne out by the show. There is a specific moment where the titular Fake I.D. is discovered. It is a moment of really uncomfortable connection between Joe and his parents, because it is the first time that his misgivings about his ethnicity are ever addressed.
“Yes. It was said with a look, a silent exchange. I grew up being quite embarrassed by my background and the fact that I couldn’t fully assimilate because of my father, my surname and all that. But this was the first time that my parents became aware of my shame. It was a hot, sharp moment.”
Yeah, that comes across in the show. And that awkwardness is universal: It transcends race. There is a time in every adolescent life that your parents, who were previously gods, become embarrassments. The audience were squirming in recognition.
“You’re reacting against your parents but also trying to find your own space, you know? I just had a more…specific set of circumstances. Every young person invents or imagines fictions about themselves. You repackage yourself in a way that is more agreeable to you. It just took me a really long time to get out of that! So I never thought at the age of fifteen I’d be doing a show about it. If you’d have told me that I would have thought you were mental!”
I know you’ve written for the theatre previously but this is the first time I’ve ever seen you perform. I expect the personal nature of the piece dictated that, but what was your motivation for writing Fake I.D.?
“Why does anyone who wants to create put themselves out there? There is a certain degree of narcissism with all performance, I think, but I was driven by the sense that I think it’s a bloody good story! This came out of conversations with friends: they all thought it was a very peculiar kind of upbringing.”
Well, its schism on top of schism, isn’t it? There you are, crawling around in the rubble of the troubles, desperate to find your own identity. In a country where even now people who are different are being burnt out of their homes.
“If anything racism seems to be on the up. Not, I believe, because people have become more racist, but because there are more opportunities for a vocal minority to be racist. There has been an influx of immigrants. When I was growing up in the 80’s…
You were the only show in town!
“Pretty much! Certainly for miles around, as far as I could see. My mum and dad were unwitting trailblazers for a new cosmopolitanism. And we aren’t even there yet!”
And what do your family think about the show? Have they seen it?
He winces. Another sip of coffee.
“”This is the first time I’ve ever been this open, either socially or in performance or even with my family, which is why I’m kind of uncomfortable about family members coming – I haven’t worked out whether it’s okay for my family to see this show or not. It changes the dynamic when you have loved ones in, but very specifically, if my mother is in that room then her truth is not necessarily the same as my truth! She might find it a betrayal. But it’s not for her, which is a hard thing to communicate: it’s about you but it’s not for you. It’s the most self obsessed piece of catharsis ever!”
Well you say that but equally people took quite a lot from it. People were crying in the audience: there are an awful lot of points of contact and it’s interesting that you’re talking about alienation in such a way that everybody understands your pain – you communicate it very well.
“It is funny. This is making it sound a bit bleak: it’s not “Angela’s Ashram”. There are jokes. But it can’t be just a comedy if you’re talking about something as serious, as personal as this.”