Using his expressive, friendly charm, Akmal Saleh built a qualitative rapport with the audience from his first breath. On the wide open stage of His Majesty’s Theatre, he initially seemed quite small, but he got the laughs rolling straight away. Describing himself as “an ugly Carl Baron, except half the price!”, the comedian described how unfavourable being airdropped into South Africa was for the popular reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!. Sharing one unpleasant memory where he was lowered into fish guts and scorpions, he mused about the immorality of the show’s producers, who refused to “get him out of there”.
To his credit, Akmal was always able to sense when the audience’s reactions started dropping, at which point he would turn his attention to the front row for some quick-witted and hilarious crowd-work before returning to his material. As he discussed the other celebrities he had met on set, a heckler repeatedly asked: “How many ciggies does Shane Warne smoke?” Akmal parroted this back whilst sounding like someone who’d just knocked back a six pack and a handful of sleeping pills (an uncanny impersonation). He was not outright brutal, but he expertly cut the hecklers down to size.
A particularly memorable moment occurred halfway through the show, when Akmal procured a bag of chips from an audience member and cast its contents over those in the first two rows. Impersonating Moses feeding his followers, it was great value-for-money for the rest of the audience, but probably not so funny for the proverbial Grandma Betsy, who had “just got her perm did”.
There were a few parts of the set that might have offended the more sensitive show-goer, but Akmal alleviated any palpable tension with a dismissive: “I’m kidding, shaddup!” This was especially true when he dived into contentious topics, where he acknowledged his use of generalizations and clichés. Not shying away from such topics, he forced the audience to begrudging, laughingly, accept the validity of his points about seemingly ‘unquestionable’ ethical norms.
Aside from a couple of shots at Donald Drumpf’s fake tan, an easy target, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Akmal kept the energy high, and the two people loudly and enthusiastically snorting in fits of laughter behind me can attest to his hilarity.
Words by Monty Lloyd
Akmal Saleh was in Perth for two nights as part of the ongoing Perth Comedy Festival.