By ALISON BELLAMY
Award-winning comedian and presenter Shazia Mirza takes a break from working in Los Angeles to speak to Asian Sunday.
She is currently writing and performing in the United States and is in demand world-wide; as the UK’s best known Asian Muslim female comedian, who often talks about the most uncomfortable issues through her stand-up comedy.
The Birmingham born star says her Pakistani parents are sometimes in denial or turn a blind eye to what she does, after leaving a steady career as a science teacher in a high school.
Her latest show The Kardashians Made Me Do It, which tours the UK next year, is inspired by three girls who left Bethnal Green to join ISIS. It is described as a ‘searing and urgent exploration of life, love and Jihadi brides.’
She shot to fame after the American 9/11 attacks in 2001 when she took to the stage wearing a hijab with the opening line of “My name is Shazia Mirza, or at least that is what it says on my pilot’s licence.” This set the tone for her sarcastic, gutsy performances, looking at life as a Muslim woman in Britain.
In 2001 she won the prize for the Best New Act at the London Comedy Festival and was soon touring the UK, Europe and the US. The rest is history and she is now a well-known face on television, including appearing as a regular panellist on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff. She also writes for The Guardian and other newspapers and has presented her own shows. Mirza was the first British comedian to perform in Pakistan.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LATEST SHOW WHICH GOES ON A UK TOUR NEXT YEAR?
I wrote it a year ago but have spent a lot of time updating it as so much has happened in the last 12
months, so really it is a work in progress as there is always so much going on.
The Kardashians Made Me Do It is inspired by three girls who left Bethnal Green to join ISIS, plus an unrelated radio piece which I contributed to the BBC, which subsequently received a record number of complaints.
Following a good run at London’s Tricycle Theatre, we are now taking the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show on a nationwide tour of the UK in 2016 from February.
DOES IT COVER CONTROVERSIAL MATTERS?
Well it is about ISIS and Jihadi brides, so yes. I don’t want people to be worried about laughing at stuff that is not normally funny.
The show tells of the confusion it caused as I look into the nature of offence, the dangers of politically correct liberalism versus the sinister and terrifying intrusion of ISIS into the lives of young British Asian women, and I look at the phenomenon of Jihadi brides.
WHAT MIGHT AN AUDIENCE EXPECT?
In her own words: ‘My mum can’t find me anyone to marry. My friend Matthew looks at me with great concern and says: “You’re not thinking of becoming a Jihadi Bride are you?” Would I do that? The weather in Britain isn’t great, and the sunsets and landscape in Syria are mean to be very romantic… I’d get a husband, wouldn’t have to work, and would definitely get a place in heaven. Yes I’d miss my hair straighteners and hot pants, but that’s a small price to pay.’
DO YOU THINK HUMOUR HELPS US TO DEAL WITH AWFUL ISSUES HAPPENING?
I think anything that makes anyone laugh is great. Laughter helps people feel better about what is happening in their day to day mundane lives. People go to work, come home, are in a routine, and most of us do not really laugh that much. I know I don’t. It is rare that people have a full hour of laughter. But when you see a comedy show you are laughing for a long time maybe 90 minutes or more.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WORLD NEWS?
Sometimes the only point of view people hear about what is happening is on the news or the coverage they see. And some people believe every single word. But you cannot blame them. I try to look at things in a different way and don’t want people to feel bad about laughing about the things that are going on in the world. After all what I do is just another way of looking at things.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PARENTS? ARE THEY FUNNY?
When I look back on my life I always remember my father with his friends, cousins and relatives and they were always laughing at stupid things and having in house conversations with each other. They didn’t tell jokes as such, but it was more storytelling and observations, a lot like the Irish culture. The Asian community has a strong cultural affinity like that. Saying that, I don’t ever recall my mother laughing.
DO YOUR PARENTS LIKE WHAT YOU DO?
Now, they are very proud of me, I think and whenever I do a TV appearance or show my mum will say afterwards ‘You looked really nice, your hair and make-up were good and your new top was lovely’. I do notice that she won’t comment on the subject matter or jokes.
HOW WAS PERFORMING IN PAKISTAN?
I have performed there five or six times now over the years. It was a wonderful experience every time. I had a great time and the audience is not reserved. I have performed at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore and at a venue in Karachi, which was later sadly bombed by the Taliban. I am not sure if I will perform in Pakistan anytime soon though.
HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RECENT VOTE ON AIRSTRIKES IN SYRIA?
Some of the MPs who voted for airstrikes received death threats for their choice. It is their role to vote and if people do not agree with them then they should not make threats. If that is the case, we might as well go and live in Syria. It seems if you don’t get a death threat nowadays you are not doing so well.
WHEN ARE YOU HAPPIEST?
I like to travel a lot and at the moment I am in Los Angeles writing and doing stand-up shows. Quite soon I will be going to my favourite place which is Palm Springs in the desert. When I am there I will do some meditation and relax completely.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I am currently performing in America and writing while I am here, and looking forward to a short break of a few days off. Then in February next year will start the UK tour.
Tell us more…
IF YOU WEREN’T A COMEDIAN… When I was a child I always wanted to go to space.
FAVOURITE TV PROGRAM… I suppose I have to say The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 as I am on it. I also really like Catastrophe at the moment, a comedy show.
FAVOURITE FILM… Educating Rita or Shirley Valentine. So many to choose from but I love those two.
FAVOURITE FOOD … I love kale (green leafy vegetable)
FAVOURITE PLACE TO VISIT… The desert at Palm Springs in America
FAVOURITE PLACE IN BIRMINGHAM…. Queens Park, which is round the corner from my childhood home, if I go back there, it reminds me of my childhood.
For details of Shazia Mirza’s UK tour in 2016 see www.shaziamirza.com