Written by Gráinne Maguire

Voices

I ♥ immigration

Great Britain is one massive melting pot of sights, tastes, sounds and cultures, and Gráinne Maguire couldn’t be more chuffed about it.

Illustration by Louise Boulter

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Even by its usual standards, I’ve found this year’s general election coverage especially depressing. With the grim inevitably of a soap wedding not quite going according to plan, the topic of ‘immigration’ has reared its foreign-looking head in the news. From the sinister bogeymen of UKIP’s policies to the defeated shrugged shoulders of Labour and Conservatives, nobody seems to be saying anything positive about it. It’s always presented as a regrettable part of modern life, like global warming, or overpriced coffee.

Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, the idea that people would actually immigrate to our green isle was inconceivable. We went to other places of course, but no one ever moved in. Ireland was a dull, grey place: no ethnic minorities, no foreign influences and no kids with fancy-sounding surnames. The most exotic our town got was a Chinese restaurant that didn’t even bother offering chopsticks and served all dishes with chips.

When I moved to London I was dazzled by all the riches different countries could offer in one place: eyebrows threaded in an Indian beauty parlour; the best falafel because the guy who made it was from Turkey; Indian food that didn’t have to be pricked and stuck in a microwave for five minutes. Admittedly, food and beauty treatments are shallow arguments for free global movement but they won me over. London felt like such an exhilarating place to be, the best and the brightest jostling for space. I felt like I was at the centre of the world.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics showed that the UK isn’t some patronising old empire villain from history books; it is a vibrant exciting young country. The ceremony celebrated its multiculturalism, its diversity, its multitude of riches – because they are the reasons it has produced so much of the greatest music, innovation and culture of the last century. This assimilation had been hard-earned by generations of migrants experiencing discrimination, prejudice and suspicion, but it had resulted in the country’s crowning achievements: the NHS, the internet, The Sex Pistols, the Beatles! If a sports event could fill so many Britons with pride for what their multicultural country has achieved, why can’t any of the main parties celebrate it so unequivocally?

“Imagine if the only standups we heard were white Britons able to trace their
ancestry back to Ethelred the Unready. Imagine how boring, bland, tedious and dull it would all be.”

If nothing else, Britain is the place that welcomed me into my industry. London is the standup capital of the world. Nowhere, not LA, Chicago, Melbourne, or even New York, has a standup scene as vibrant, exciting and big as London. Encouraged by the relative closeness of our major cities, it’s why the best comedians from all over the world move to the UK to be part of it. In turn comedy has become a multimillion-pound industry, providing thousands of jobs in comedy promotion, management and production. Imagine if the only standups we heard were white Britons able to trace their ancestry back to Ethelred the Unready. Imagine how boring, bland, tedious and dull it would all be.

Think of any comedian that represents British wit at its best: Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry, Michael McIntyre, Jimmy Carr, Ricky Gervais, Bridget Christie, Steve Coogan, Sacha Baron Cohen, Lenny Henry, Billy Connolly, Katherine Ryan, Graham Norton, Dara Ó Briain, Aisling Bea, John Kearns, Roisin Conaty, Mike Wozniak – all either immigrants or children of immigrants. Comedy is one of Britain’s great immigration success stories.

That’s why I’m organising a comedy night to celebrate immigration. It is full of some of the most exciting, freshest, funniest acts in the country, that just happen to be either immigrants or from immigrant backgrounds. They’re not necessarily going to be talking about immigration – they might not even mention it – it’ll just be a great night of comedy, the exact same bill you might see at any top level comedy night without noticing that none of the acts would be there if it wasn’t for immigration.

Immigrants aren’t some separate regrettable sub-section of British life: from the Picts to the Poles, they define what it means. After all, what could be more British than a good sense of humour?

We Love Immigration Benefit is on 30 March at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London.

All proceeds from the night go to Migrants’ Rights, a charity and lobbying group working for the rights of all migrants.

@GrainneMaguire

www.grainnemaguire.com

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Written by Gráinne Maguire

Gráinne Maguire is a comedian, comedy writer, lover and a fighter. Loves the Labour Party and Cheryl Cole in equal measures.