Religious rib-ticklers

Heard the one about the Muslim comedian? This and much more in our round-up of quirkier parts of the

What with the rain, the football, and the massive data loss on an unprecedented scale, there was not all that much to laugh about this week.

Bucking the trend was Allah Made Me Funny, a Muslim comedy tour which reached the UK recently. Its arrival caused a fair bit of chin-stroking in the British press, despite the fact that there are already a number of cracking Muslim comedians around, including NS columnist Shazia Mirza and members of the provocatively named Axis of Evil group.

There are also quite a few websites where you can get a regular dose of Islamic drollery (check out the one about a Rabbi, a Mullah and a Nun).

So why is 'Muslim comedy' still treated as such a novel phenomenon? Do shows like Allah Made Me Funny utilise this novelty factor in the way they are promoted and thus implicitly give sustenance to the unhelpful notion that funny Muslims are pretty rare? Or should the tour be praised for effectively and flamboyantly counterbalancing a number of damaging and pervasive stereotypes?

Either way, it’s been hailed as a genuinely amusing show and the debate it has provoked is a good deal more interesting than the increasingly unedifying 'Is Martin Amis the new Bernard Manning?' spat, which is still trundling on, its news value buoyed by a number of celebrity interventions.

Meanwhile, racial identity underlay a number of the other arts stories of the week as we asked if the modern music scene has become too segregated, while The Guardian questioned if a film telling what it called "a black story" should be made by a black director.

Fakebook Revisited

It was recently revealed on this blog that Noble Laureate Doris Lessing has a MySpace page.

Which other great writers are maintaining a strong web presence? The good news for Doris is that she is streets ahead of most of her contemporaries, aside from trendy Dave Eggers who has a page over on MySpace rival facebook.

However, there are a number of unofficial and spoof literary MySpace pages, some of which are serious minded fan sites (like this one on Martin Amis), some of which are blatant parodies (on this page someone purporting to be Salman Rushdie lists their interests as “pissing people off” and “watching the telly”). Worryingly for Doris, despite her page being legitimate, she has only a paltry 345 online chums while the obviously fake Salman has an impressive 487.

Moreover, aside from the fake contemporary novelists, an alarming number of deceased literary greats are living out a ghoulish electronic afterlife on the net. Even Shakespeare has a page (“It is correct. I am backeth!”): he’s got 6298 friends, lives in Elsinore Castle and offers you the chance to buy ‘original merchandise’.

You can check out a blog from "Tolstoy" (who is currently reading If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?) or pages ostensibly set-up by TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf and multiple Dostoevskys.

This is all waggish enough but as publishers latch on to the marketing potential of social networking sites (“Hi this is Philip Roth inviting you to check out my new novel”) it might not be long before someone clamps down on the fake literati of cyberspace. It seems only fair to Doris.

Related

MySpace homepage

A blog entry on literary fakers

Short Cuts

Things you may have missed this week included the Third Annual No Music Day and the bizarre news that Queen star and physics buff Brian May is to take over from Cherie Blair as the next Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University.

Meanwhile, the opening of the exhibition King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the former millennium dome (now rehabilitated as the London O2 Arena) has been causing a stir, with some commentators criticising the hefty admission price, the choice of venue and the allegedly gaudy design of the galleries. Are the complaints of King Tut’s Wah Wah Club justified? We’ll have a full review in our next issue. In the coming week you could check out work by the acclaimed South African artist William Kentridge, support a popular Youth Theatre’s redevelopment plan or enter yourself (ethnicity and gender permitting) into the 2007 Miss India UK Competition. Enjoy.

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We knew we’d become proper pop stars when we got a car like George Michael’s

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

One of the clichés about celebrity life is that all celebrities know each other. Back in the Eighties, when we were moderately famous, Ben and I did often bump into other famous people, and because of mutual recognition, there was a sort of acquaintance, if not friendship.

There was a random element to it, as well. Some celebrities you might never catch a glimpse of, while others seemed to pop up with an unexpected regularity.

In 1987, the car we drove was a 1970s Austin Princess, all leather seats and walnut dashboard. In many ways, it symbolised what people thought of as the basic qualities of our band: unassuming, a little bit quirky, a little bit vintage. We’d had it for a year or so, but Ben was running out of patience. It had a habit of letting us down at inconvenient moments – for instance, at the top of the long, steep climbs that you encounter when driving through Italy, which we had just recklessly done for a holiday. The car was such a novelty out there that it attracted crowds whenever we parked. They would gather round, nodding appreciatively, stroking the bonnet and murmuring, “Bella macchina . . .”

Having recently banked a couple of royalty cheques, Ben was thinking of a complete change of style – a rock’n’roll, grand-gesture kind of car.

“I wanna get an old Mercedes 300 SL,” he said to me.

“What’s one of those?”

“I’ll let you know next time we pass one,” he said.

We were driving through London in the Princess, and as we swung round into Sloane Square, Ben called out, “There’s one, look, coming up on the inside now!” I looked round at this vision of gleaming steel and chrome, gliding along effortlessly beside us, and at the same moment the driver glanced over towards our funny little car. We made eye contact, then the Merc roared away. It was George Michael.

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

We’d always had a soft spot for George, even though we seemed to inhabit opposite ends of the pop spectrum. He’d once been on a TV review show and said nice things about our first album, and I knew he had liked my solo single “Plain Sailing”. We’d done a miners’ benefit gig where Wham! had appeared, slightly out of place in their vests, tans and blond bouffants. There had been a bit of sneering because they’d mimed. But I remember thinking, “Good on you for even being here.” Their presence showed that being politically active, or even just caring, wasn’t the sole preserve of righteous indie groups.

A couple of weeks later, we were driving along again in the Princess, when who should pull up beside us in traffic? George again. He wound down his window, and so did we. He was charming and called across to say that, yes, he had recognised us the other day in Sloane Square. He went on to complain that BBC Radio 1 wouldn’t play his new single “because it was too crude”. “What’s it called?” asked Ben. “ ‘I Want Your Sex’!” he shouted, and roared away again, leaving us laughing.

We’d made up our minds by now, and so we went down to the showroom, flashed the cash, bought the pop-star car and spent the next few weeks driving our parents up and down the motorway with the roof off. It was amazing: even I had to admit that it was a thrill to be speeding along in such a machine.

A little time passed. We were happy with our glamorous new purchase, when one day we were driving down the M1 and, yes, you’ve guessed it, in the rear-view mirror Ben saw the familiar shape coming up behind. “Bloody hell, it’s George Michael again. I think he must be stalking us.”

George pulled out into the lane alongside and slowed down as he drew level with us. We wound down the windows. He gave the car a long look, up and down, smiled that smile and said, “That’s a bit more like it.” Then he sped away from us for the last time.

Cheers, George. You were friendly, and generous, and kind, and you were good at being a pop star.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge