Canadian comic Sean Collins on Brexit: ‘It seems to have brought a vocal confidence to racists’
In times of tragedy, we can always rely on comedy to ease the pain – the light relief of laughter, which dries the tears of history.
So it was perhaps inevitable, given recent events, that when talking to a socially conscious Canadian comedian who has lived in the United Kingdom for a decade, the conversation could only go one way.
Time and time again, my interview with Sean Collins returns to what he sees as the era-defining ignorance that will define his adopted homeland for generations to come: Brexit.
“There’s nothing like standing there listening to a British person telling you the UK’s ruined because there’s foreigners taking all their jobs, not knowing the irony of [Brits in] Dubai,” says Collins in response to a simple, opening enquiry into whether he is looking forward to returning to The Laughter Factory.
He is one of three comedians taking part in a tour that kicks off in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday (July 13).
“I honestly think British expats don’t consider themselves foreigners anywhere in the world – it’s quite remarkable,” he adds.
If he sounds angry about the outcome of last month’s referendum, in which the UK narrowly voted in favour of leaving the European Union, it is because he is. But like any good comedian, this 49-year-old veteran performer – whose credits include an appearance in the final episode of his mate Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow – is already mining the perceived calamity for comedic potential.
There might be no end to the trauma of uncertainty on the horizon in Britain, but at least in Collins’s hands there might be something to laugh at, too.
“Britain is different after the vote,” he says. “It seems to have brought a vocal confidence to racists. I’ve heard people are heckling, ‘Go back to your own country,’ to comedians of foreign descent onstage.
“But you know what, we’ll prevail over them. They’re idiots. A simple maths question normally throws them off. And it gives me a lot of material to play out onstage.”
Given the close result of the referendum – 52 per cent voted leave, 48 per cent stay – this might risk splitting the crowd.
“What’s a little minor riot?” he says. “Living in the UK for so many years, I know how much Brits like to moan, and I honestly thought they’d prefer to moan about being in the EU, rather than leave it. It’s giving them one thing less to moan about.”
Moaning, it would seem, is a cornerstone of Collins’s approach to comedy, and it is not all about politics.
In recent months a new, more personal slant has crept into his material, following the birth of his second child last year, eight years after the first.
“I’m 49 and I have a 9-month-old baby that we weren’t counting on,” he says, “which has now added a whole new dimension of being a tired, old dad.”
But the bulk of his moaning targets bigger game – the time-honoured practice of trying to put the world to rights.
Following an early career as a child psychologist, he broke onto Vancouver’s comedy scene in 1990. It was the start of a storied career in his homeland that included Best Male Stand Up nominations at the Canadian Comedy Awards, a gala set at Montreal’s renowned Just For Laughs festival and an hour-long TV special.
A mix of love and opportunity led him to relocate to the UK in 2004, where he adopted the country’s favourite pastime – moaning – but skewed it with the perspective of an outsider.
Trademark material tackles the ineffectiveness of a range of British services, from public transport to law enforcement, as told from the snide perspective of a baffled expat Canadian.
“Nothing seems to bother Brits, which is quite amazing,” he says. “I will say one thing about British crowds – you can’t offend them.
“Maybe Brits are so offended by their government all the time, that nothing really gets to them. It’s quite refreshing.”
• The Laughter Factory’s July tour begins at Park Rotana Abu Dhabi on Wednesday (July 13), and is on tour throughout Dubai, July 14-15, and July 20 to 22 at various locations. For tickets (from Dh140) and more information, visit thelaughterfactory.com
Updated: July 11, 2016 04:00 AM