Imran Yusuf: From minimum wage to McIntyre

The outspoken comedian comes to Finchley following his performance on Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow

In the summer of 2007, Imran Yusuf was clinically depressed and bankrupt, with a dead end job in the computer games industry which compromised his fledgling comedy career.

By the summer of 2010, he was performing on Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow to a packed-out live venue and a TV audience of millions.

“I MCd at one of the Off The Kerb nights, just filling in,” says 31-year-old Yusuf, who grew up in north-west London.

“I thought it had gone OK, but the guys called me the next day and said, ‘We heard you smashed it last night and we want to offer you an audition for McIntyre’s show.’ I was so pleased but I didn’t think I would get anywhere.”

Before he knew it, Yusuf was at the audition. “Backstage everyone knew Michael personally and they were all having a great time catching up about their days coming up on the circuit,” says Yusuf, who was born in Kenya and moved to London when he was 14. “I didn’t know anyone, I was so nervous.”

“After the audition, Michael came to me and said, ‘You have likeability Imran – you can’t buy that.’ I later found out that he’d personally requested to have me on his show.”

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Despite this Hollywood-style story, most of the upward trajectory of Yusuf’s career has happened because of sheer hard work.

After being “pushed out” of his minimum wage job as a computer games tester in 2007, he made a promise to himself that he would put everything into making it as a comedian. Touted as one of the hardest working comedians today by one BBC reviewer, he has lived up to that pact. The last four years have been spent at the microphone. Yusuf did 322 gigs last year and 272 in 2009.

“I like to keep a count of how many gigs I do – as it helps me to physically see the progress I’m making and see if I’m putting in enough effort,” says Yusuf, who was nominated for Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010.

“I’ve gigged so much, the stage has become my second home. This weekend, I’m doing six gigs in two nights.”

In more than 800 gigs in four years, Yusuf has managed to craft an approach to stand-up which goes beyond the likeability recognised in him by McIntyre. His stand-up fires on all cylinders, with a pick ‘n’ mix style which shouldn’t work but does. This leads to a routine where astute socio-political assessments complement physical comedy which wouldn’t be out of place on children’s TV.

“I like all kinds of comedy – I love having a bit of fun and being a bit surreal,” says Yusuf. “It’s great to set people up with some stuff on politics and then you throw in something like a dinosaur impression. I enjoy that challenge – it also gives my act great variety.”

Born to a family with its roots in the Indian immigrant community in Kenya and spending his youth in America (for a year with his extended family) and in London, Yusuf has enough experience to naturally bring variety to his material.

“You have got to make comedy about what you know,” he says. “The material is my life experience. At the same time, sometimes people will laugh at me before I open my mouth because of the way I look. I’ve sort of been blessed with a comedy face. It’s not all just about politics. That’s the best thing about being a stand-up comedian, you have creative control and it can go wherever you want.”

o Imran Yusuf plays the Arts Depot in North Finchley on April 7. Box office on 020-8369 5454.