When Bilal Zafar’s quip about opening a Muslim only cake shop caused a storm in Twitter, the Wanstead comedian decided to use the incident to tackle Islamophobia one step at a time.

The 24-year-old has been serving up fallout from the hashtag joke to audience as stand-up routine CAKE and has already been named winner of the Comedy Cafe New Act Competition in London and the Rawhide Raw New Act Competition in Liverpool and in November was named runner-up in the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year 2015.

Now he has been chosen from more than 150 comedians as one of 12 finalists in the New Acts of The Year Comedy Showcase (NATYS) 2016 which as previously been won by greats such as Stewart Lee, Ronni Ancona and Ardal O’Hanlon. 
We caught up with him to find out more.

What prompted you to go into comedy?

I always thought stand-up was the coolest thing you could do but didn’t have the courage. Then I went to Uni to study screenwriting as my ambition was to write comedy for TV. But I discovered getting anything made is almost impossible if people don’t know who you are. I realised with stand-up I could write something on the day and perform it to an audience that evening.

When was your first gig?

Almost exactly three years ago in my last year of Uni. I used to find any public speaking really scary and it’s not the sort of thing people expect me to do but I found a random open mic night in Clapham and did that. It was really scary. I had written something but hadn’t read it out loud or even spoken into a microphone so I went blank for a bit but after a couple of minute I got going and was able to do an OK gig. The second time I was a lot more comfortable on stage and from then I knew I could do it.

Where did you grow up?

In Wanstead and went to Wanstead High School. Then I went to Manchester Uni and stayed there after I had graduate for a couple of years as the comedy scene is less intense there than London. I just moved back to Wanstead a month ago and now I get paid gigs.

What is your comedy highlight?

I was in the Leicester Square new comedians final in November and got runner up. That was huge for me.

What does it mean to get into the NATYS?

It’s great. I knew about it even before I got into comedy as I knew Stewart Lee had won it even before I was born and that it was a big deal. I didn’t expect to get into the final though and to be doing this well, things have really started happening for me in the last month.

Do you still get nervous?

Sometimes. I get a weird thing where I get really sleepy and could fall asleep. I never actually have though. I used to get it before exams as well. I’m OK once I get on stage though.

What inspires your comedy?

The writing is actually the thing I struggle with most but I found as soon as I started talking about racism and more specifically Islamophobia I got more attention, I guess because it’s so current right now. I offer a bit of a response to it and I guess no one else is really doing that. It is easier for me to write about because I care about it and it’s interesting and a bit different.

How did your show CAKES start?

It started as a joke on Twitter that got out of hand. People like Katie Hopkins were talking about it and the Daily Star wanted to expose it. An EDL forum was discussing it months afterwards and it got so out of hand I couldn’t even follow all the comments. I thought it was the kind of thing only Muslims would find funny but everywhere I have performed it there has been a really good reaction.

Have you experience any racism in real life?

Yes, that horrible stuff has been a big part of my life. My local mosque in South Woodford where I used to go after school was burnt down in 2002. And seeing things like the Sun front page’ One in five Muslims support Isis’ affected me. That’s why I’m able to write about it because it’s something I care about.

So do you want to educate people with your comedy?

Yes my favourite sort of comedy is the more meaningful stuff and that’s what I want to do rather than just doing dirty jokes.

What does your family think of you doing comedy?

They were surprised at first and my mum was a bit worried as she thought comedy was a bit sweary and offensive but then she realised I was basically being myself no stage. I got them to come to a gig for the first time a few months ago and now she tells all her friends about me.

Which comedians do you admire?

Simon Amstell made me realise I could do comedy because his on-stage person is so down beat and nothing flash. And Chris Morris from Brass Eye was my main inspiration to get into comedy. He showed me you could do anything with comedy you wanted.

Have you got a day job?

Not right now. I have been a care worker, a concierge and done sales but I have just moved back home after five years away and am lucky I get paid to do charity and corporate events and am making enough money off comedy.

Where can people find out more about your comedy?

Twitter @zafarcakes, bilalzafarcomedy.com

Bilal will perform at the NATYS final at Leicester Square Theatre, Leicester Place, WC2H 7BX, Sunday, January 31, 2.30pm. Details: leicestersquaretheatre.com