Adil Ray has become a household name thanks to his hit TV comedy show Citizen Khan. He talks to Chris Bond about his comic creation ahead of his return to Yorkshire.
Following on from the success of Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42, Citizen Khan has picked up the flag-waving duties for British Asian sitcoms.
The BBC TV comedy series, which has been running for the past four years, has made its creator and star Adil Ray a household name. The comedy show, for those who aren’t familiar, revolves around Mr Khan, a larger than life character with strong opinions and big dreams.
The comedy arises from the well-intentioned but disastrous scrapes the character finds himself in. It harks back to the era of Terry and June and has proved a big hit with many viewers. So much so that Ray has adapted the show and taken it on the road with the Citizen Khan - Everybody Knows Me tour coming to Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre and Leeds Grand next week.
The seeds for the live stage show were sown on the back of the TV series. “Some of the best bits are when you speak to the audience and I thought maybe that’s what people want and is something they don’t see on TV,” he says.
“So I’ll be on stage in Leeds and Bradford and head out amongst the audience to find a fellow Pakistani... or someone who might be a member of Ukip and have a bit of a laugh.”
The success of Citizen Khan revolves around the hapless central character, played by Ray himself, one he’s been honing for years. “From a young child I remember being fascinated by adults. I’ve realised that some of Mr Khan’s characteristics must have been stored in my memory bank from watching adults around me.
“There are elements of my family in him, bits of my dad and also bits of me in there too. I also think there’s a bit of him in all of us - because in the end all he wants is to be loved and respected.”
Ray first developed Mr Khan for the BBC 2 comedy Bellamy’s People after being approached by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson, having previously performed various Asian characters on his radio show at the BBC Asian Network.
“I had this idea of a community leader which was something we kept hearing about in the news and I thought ‘who is this guy and what makes him a community leader?’” he says.
Despite the show’s popularity it came in for some criticism to begin with. “Initially some people in the Muslim community felt we were somehow mocking the faith which isn’t what we were trying to do,” says Ray.
“Quite often comedies start slowly as people get familiar with the characters, but I’m a big believer in laughter as a way of bringing communities together.”
Not that Ray started out as a comedy writer. It was while studying at the University of Huddersfield that he cut his teeth as a DJ, going on to do everything from dance nights to children’s discos, before becoming a radio presenter and then a comedy writer.
When he started Citizen Khan it was also his first time in front of the cameras. “Leading up to the first show I was really nervous because I didn’t want to let people down but the moment I was on stage I remember absolutely loving it.”
He doesn’t feel weighed down by its success. “I don’t feel massive pressure from the Asian community. I probably would if I was trying to represent the entire Muslim population but I’m not.”
He says the show isn’t afraid of making fun of Muslim culture, but at the same time believes it is accessible to anyone, no matter what their ethnic background.
“Mr Khan has his weaknesses and foibles but in the end he tries to do the right thing - and people can relate to that.”
Citizen Khan- Everybody Knows Me, Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, April 25, and Leeds Grand, April 28.