Isma Almas’ 2019 Edinburgh show is biographical comedy at its best. Her story of what led her and her female partner to adopt a little boy of a different heritage to their own is captivating, generous and at times so shocking I couldn’t prevent myself from gasping and laughing at the same time, in a state of liberal, white-girl confusion.
Isma disarmingly shares the racism aimed at her as a child growing up in the 1970s. Although the racism is enragingly predictable, one incident in particular is not and neither is the comic storytelling approach that Isma takes. She lures and relaxes you then jabs you in the ribs. There are proper narrative punch lines, unexpected and unnerving. Even less predicable is the Islamaphobia she describes at a significant point during the adoption process. Researchers investigating the lack of diversity amongst those coming forward to adopt would do well to see her show, buckle up and not ask themselves too many questions about when its right to laugh. I won’t share the story, but I will say that Isma is a social worker and might have reasonably expected an easier ride because of that. It turns out not to have been the case. More subtle but equally damaging racism has since collided with her family. She skilfully exposes and dissects the excuses and the flawed reasoning, then wallops in with a firm reminder this is not a TED talk. The show never veers towards worthiness.
Isma and I are both adopters and initially connected in the virtual world. When I embarked on a novel set in the world of stand-up comedy, she reviewed a draft and gave invaluable feedback. It needs more misogyny and more messiness, she told me and her advice significantly improved my manuscript. Then she asked if I would give feedback on her Edinburgh-bound show, About A Buoy and I made my way to an office space near King’s Cross station, wondering just how awkward being the only member of an audience was going to be. It wasn’t at all. From the off I was with her, swept through a marriage and a divorce, a new relationship and a child. I knew some of the ending but still it touched me, right before it kicked my feet away, picked me up and bathed me in sunshine and Queen. Isma’s show is narrative comedy at its most vibrant and enriching and a perfect, mid-afternoon festival pick up.
Isma’s show About A Buoy – Adventures in Adoption, is showing at The Gilded Balloon from 31 July to 26 August.