Before his comedy career took off, Imran Yusuf worked for development studios such as Midway, Sega and Kuju. Now he’s returning to his roots by becoming GamesAid’s first patron. Ahead of his Edinburgh Fringe show, we chat about missing his old industry and the nature of videogame pilgrimages.
How did your appointment as GamesAid patron come about?
Before GamesAid, there used to be another charity called the Entertainment Software Charity, and I was looking to do some work with them, because I used to work at Sega. So I met with the people at ESC, and we wanted to do some stuff together, but sadly they folded. From Sega, I went to Kuju and got involved with some other stuff. And then finally, once I made some headway in my comedy career, I thought we could put on a night at the Comedy Store, and it worked. We sold it out last year and raised over £4,000.
Do you miss making games?
Oh, absolutely! I still keep in touch with people in the game industry. In fact, I was just speaking to [Kick Off creator] Dino Dini last night about how much I missed it. It was really hard work, and there were a lot of long days, but being in the industry – being around people that I enjoyed being around, talking about games and just working on them – it’s
just what I enjoy doing.
Would you ever consider returning?
Absolutely. What I’m wanting to do is make my fortune in comedy and then… I’ve already registered my own development company as a side project, just out of a desire of nothing more than to make games.
What sparked your interest in them?
When I was 11, I got a NES and I can still remember the moment I stuck in Super Mario Bros and heard ‘Duh-duh duh duh-duh duh, duh’. At that very moment, my life changed and I went, “When I grow up, I want to make videogames.”
How has your experience of working on games informed your comedy?
I’ve got a routine about playing COD; it’s based on something that actually happened to me. Me and my mate were playing COD on Xbox Live, and these American kids laid into us when they heard our accent. It upset me a lot, because I was being insulted in my house – I’m a very sensitive guy! And so I wrote that routine off the back of the frustration that I felt. I was really lucky, because had I not received that abuse, I wouldn’t have written that routine [and] it wouldn’t have got me on TV. It was about that routine that Michael McIntrye went, “I really like that. I want you on my show.”
Do you think jokes about games have a broad enough appeal yet?
It hasn’t been easy to write material about videogames that I can then approach a mainstream audience with. It’s really weird. When I’m with my gamer friends, we can talk about games and [I can] make jokes about them they will understand, but I can’t turn up at the Comedy Store and start talking about Shenmue! No one would know what the hell I’m talking about, unfortunately. There were a couple of times I’ve mentioned Killer Instinct or Street Fighter onstage, then people look at me and go, “What the hell is an Ultra Combo?”
So which game is your favourite?
I love Shenmue. I started working in the game industry at the end of 2000. I got a job at Midway. I did a good job in my first couple of weeks there and my boss – who had contacts at Sega – said, “Right, Imran, what game do you want from Sega?” I was looking forward to Shenmue, so he got it for me. I took it home, and I hated it. I thought it was absolutely cumbersome and I didn’t understand what the hell was going on… After about a week, I thought I should give it another go and sit down with it properly this time. And then I fell in love with it. Just the amount of effort they’d put into creating the world and making it feel real. You were Ryo Hazuki and you had to find your father’s killer by exploring the criminal underworld of Yokosuka, but at the same time you could feed kittens, buy soda, and race forklifts! When I went to Japan, I went to Yokosuka and visited Dobuita Street and took all these pictures. How many games are you so besotted by that you go and visit the place where it’s set?