Sikh comedian smirks at stereotypes

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Ajit and Amy laugh up a storm at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, says RITAM MITRA

Adelaide recently held its annual Fringe Festival, a 24-day celebration of cabaret, comedy, dance, theatre, music and visual arts events. It is the second- largest in the world, behind only the Edinburgh Fringe Festival held in Scotland. However, the very nature of fringe festivals is that they are somewhat marginalised – even though the Adelaide festival is indeed such a big event, fringe theatre is quite simply theatre that is not mainstream. This year, Ajit Dhaliwal joined forces with his friend Amy Manuel for his first fringe show, in a comedic duo that turned quite a few heads. Called Ajitating Amy – the lifestyles of the Sikh and Twisted,

the pair recently received the Dave Grant comedy grant, which was presented in memory of the Melbourne comedian who sadly passed away in 2010. The grant helps new comics looking for their first Fringe show, and provided Amy and Ajit with three free nights at a Fringe venue, along with assistance in the form of flyers and printing, as well as mentoring regarding presentation and marketing.

Amy and Ajit met during a comedy course, and formed a friendship as a result. “We did some gigs together and got to know each other more. We just have the same sense of humour … we were both looking forward to our first Fringe show. We laugh at similar things and we find the whole psychology around comedy very interesting,” Dhaliwal says. “The idea around the show is also about stereotypes and how people judge each other. Even though Amy and I look very different on the outside we’re very similar on the inside.”

The show is a humorous exploration of the duo’s lives and lifestyles – tackling subjects such as a comparison between Sikhs and Jedis, what primary schoolteachers actually think of their kids, and even why Prince Charming isn’t such a great role model after all. The show itself is only 45 minutes long – but in that time, the pair cover ground from England to Australia, crossing Holland and India on the way.  Ajit is described as a laidback, genial personality, and as with all comedic duos, the contrast was important; Amy’s is a dark persona, full of manic energy.

It begins with the pair presenting the audience with a set of words to assign to one of them. For example, “pretty” (which generally went Amy’s way), and “terrorist” (which often went the other way). And it is in this initial framing of the show that they establish the underlying premise – challenging stereotypes. From this, they begin telling the stories of their own lives, Ajit’s being one of a fashion-conscious Sikh from a big, happy family. He was born in Britain to British-born parents, and migrated to Australia only as a teenager. If someone asks him to go back where he came from, he scratches his head and says “Mitcham?”

Meanwhile, Amy’s background is an outer-suburbs upbringing in Melbourne, one that was hardly comfortable and caused her to become angry and lash out at others, only to eventually find a way out through the literary circuit.

If the witty title wasn’t a good enough crowd-puller, the pair’s material was described as edgy and interesting, and in the current social climate where the world is fast becoming a smaller place, challenging ill-conceived and archaic stereotypes has become an important part of society. And there is no better way for us to be doing this than through some light-hearted comedy.

Being their first fringe festival, it was a lot of hard work for the pair, according to Ajit.“To do your first show that you’re putting on yourself and producing yourself is quite exciting, but it’s obviously very nerve-wracking at the same time,” he says. Indeed, some of the performance was still slightly rough around the edges. But the audience and critics alike agree that it would be great to see them around again. Leading critics from the show described the show, in a word, as “amiable” – definitely a successful debut in the tough field of stand-up comedy. Adelaide has already given the duo its stamp of approval, and while it’s unknown whether they will be coming to Sydney Fringe in September this year, it will definitely be worth a visit to some of the venues, from Leichhardt to Surry Hills, to enjoy some of the culture that often slips through the cracks for not being “mainstream” enough.