JOURNALIST and comedian Sami Shah has had a gun held to his head and walked down a corpse-strewn Karachi street immediately after a suicide bombing, but it was the Australian wildlife that came closest to killing him.
Driving back to his Northam home he swerved to avoid a roo, then a tree, and his upside-down car screeched down the road on its roof in a shower of sparks.
Standing beside the crumpled pile of metal he gingerly took inventory: “No blood, no cuts and gashes, nothing but a scratch on my right hand…Oh…God?
“Nothing challenges an avowed atheist like a miracle,” he said in an Australian newspaper interview.
In Pakistan, Shah’s acerbic wit earned him death threats, but in laid-back Oz it’s more the occasional hate mail: “[Tweets] saying things like ‘fuck off, go home’, the usual nonsense,” he tells the Herald.
Under Australia’s skilled migrant visas his family must live and work in a country town for at least three years so Shah, psychologist wife Ishma, and daughter Anya ended up in Northam, where Ishma is a counsellor at the detention centre.
Stinging on-stage and interview pokes at his new home’s lack of culture earned him a notoriety that soon put a stop to locals thinking he’d escaped from the centre.
“Half the town knows me and the other half hates me,” he jokes.
While he’d rather see a bookshop open than another cafe, after three years he concedes his feelings about rural Australia have thawed: “I feel pride at being associated with a small town.”
Shah, who’s appeared on the BBC’s QI and Australian Story, uses comedy to debunk scaremongering around asylum seekers.
“Every politician has outright lied about refugees and what is happening in Nauru,” he says.
“There is so much that people believe that is complete nonsense.”
Part of the Fremantle Festival, I Migrant and Other Stories is on at the town hall, Tuesday October 27. Tix $25 at fremantlefestival.oztix.com.au, all funds to A Fair Go For Asylum Seekers Appeal.
by JENNY D’ANGER