BGT's stand-up star Nabil Abdulrashid: 'I see myself as comedy’s newest villain'
- Credit: Aemen Sukkar
Over the last year, South Croydon’s Nabil Abdulrashid has been making waves on televisions across the UK. Ahead of the Britain's Got Talent comedian's first solo tour, we chat to him about the past year, his highs and lows, and what’s in store for the future…
In life – especially in these extraordinary times – laughter is something special to bond over. Having made it to the final of Britain’s Got Talent in 2020, Nabil knows all about that. His lacing together of comedy and important issues such as racism hit a chord not only with the lockdown audience but also with the show's judges, receiving the golden buzzer affirmation from Alesha Dixon which ensured swift passage to the final. Following the show, he is well on his way to becoming a household name, thanks to an impressive appearance on Celebrity Masterchef and a forthcoming nationwide tour.
As soon as Nabil and I are chatting, I begin chuckling as he reveals he had just managed to find someone’s house to take calls in. ‘What, just someone off the street?’ I ask. He confirms. So what’s he been up to since being on one of the biggest shows on television? ‘When I'm not hijacking neighbour's homes? I’ve been auditioning, recording really cool TV shows, gigging around the country, just genuinely doing awesome stuff,’ Nabil explains. ‘A lot of opportunities have opened up for me that I never had, at the start of my career, and I'm very grateful for it.’
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In a year of uncertainty, where many people have struggled, Nabil has swum against the tide and thrived. ‘I have survivor's guilt in a way – the past 11 years, I’ve seen so many comics, gain success and acclaim and whatnot. Not that I didn't have some successes, but I never got a big break. Then in the year that everyone else took a loss and got slowed down, mine got sped up.’ I try and probe more into the future, but of course it’s hush hush.
Despite being on such an upwards trajectory now, Nabil has not had the smoothest of journeys. I ask how he first got into comedy. ‘The honest version is I was in prison, and I developed a knack for making people laugh. It got to the point where the prison officers would open my cell door 10 minutes early, and line up so I could take the mick out of them,’ he explains. Soon he became a model inmate, working on the education wing, writing funny short stories for the prison paper, and even doing performances. ‘I decided I was going to pursue this, so I abandoned my psychology degree, and studied drama and applied theatre at Goldsmiths so I could learn stagecraft properly.’
From there, he’s been on the up, collecting a variety of career highlights. Being a recipient of the golden buzzer on Britain’s Got Talent is naturally one of them, but he’s had plenty of others too. Celebrity Masterchef, cooking for Greg Wallace and John Torode alongside Megan McKenna, Patrick Grant and other famous faces. ‘It was great but hectic – my wife will tell you I hate cooking with people near me, and I nearly put Greg on the grill for it,’ he laughs. ‘I enjoy people and love to feed people. In the part of the world I grew up in, you don't let a guest leave your house hungry, and if you cook food, and your neighbours smells it and it makes them hungry, you should offer them some,’ Nabil explains. ‘It was very nice to share aspects of my culture and cooking traditions with the British public and I'm touched that so many people enjoyed watching me on it.’
As well as top TV appearances (keep an eye on the screen for more of these), he’s enjoyed performing on stage. ‘I got to perform in Dubai in 2019 at the Opera, and I was one of the first people to do stand up there.’ Apart from casually playing massive venues, Nabil’s connection with people has also meant a lot to him along the way. ‘The fact people take their kids, their parents, their loved ones to come and see me, that’s still mad. It's humbling, because I remember being by myself in a cell, and now 1,000s of people know my name, who I am and have an interest in what I do. That's something that I still haven't got used to. I don't even call them fans, I call them friends I haven't met yet.’
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While the highlights have been high, breaking out in comedy particularly has presented challenges along the way. ‘There was a time where it wasn't so fashionable to talk about the things I'm talking about, and now everybody wants to do it. After George Floyd, everybody thinks Black Lives Matter but I remember not long ago times when people would tell us not to talk about that sort of stuff on stage,’ Nabil tells me. ‘Even the British comedy circuit as a whole has evolved, because there were times where you as a black act would call in and say you wanted to perform, and they’d say you can't perform next week, because we had a black act the week before. There were things like that to contend with.’
Raising awareness about these important issues and experiences, putting them at the forefront of conversation, is a key part of his performances. He won over crowds with his appearance on Britain’s Got Talent doing just that and will be bringing these to his tour this autumn. ‘I’m a big fan of the Marvel Comics and superhero stories, and I see myself as comedy’s newest villain, so I thought I give them an origin story so people know more about who's going to be terrorising the comedy circuit for the next few years,’ he says. ‘I’ve found that trauma plus time equals comedy – that one school fight when you were seven probably wasn't funny when it happened, but now it's probably hilarious, right? So, I’ve revisited all my adolescent memories and my journey, finding there was a lot of humour in those stories, and decided that this would be my first solo tour.’
With show dates scaling the length of the country, there’s no excuse not to book your tickets. I ask why people should. ‘Because all the money raised goes to feeding hungry African children – mine!’ Nabil laughs. I laugh, I can hear my boyfriend laughing on the other side of the room, and we all try to compose ourselves. ‘My comedy is unique, and it’s also people’s chances to support me at the start. Jump on the hype train now and be one of the cool kids – don't be that guy that only listens to songs when they're number one.’
Nabil is at Camberley Theatre on September 16, camberleytheatre.co.uk. For all other tour dates, see nabilabdulrashid.com