Shazia Mirza

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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2009 3:57 pm    Post subject: Shazia Mirza Reply with quote

'I'd like to say it was the first time I'd been mistaken for Mother Teresa'
The Guardian,
Saturday 11 July 2009

Hello. My name is Shazia Mirza, but I often get mistaken for other people. I was walking down the street the other day when a man came up to me and said, "I love your work, Benazir."

I'm no good at introducing myself - I always go really over the top and say the most inappropriate things like, "Hi, I'm Shazia, I don't smoke, don't drink and I've got chlamydia." Then I'll try to top what the other person is saying. They might say, "I've got a new car" and I'll say, "Oh, that's nice. I've just bought a helicopter." It's sometimes truth, sometimes half-truth, but if I say it with a salt-of-the-earth Brummie accent and a mile-wide grin, it usually works.

As a comedian I get asked to perform in some strange situations. This week I was invited to an inner-city comprehensive to perform for their RE conference. I'd like to say it was the first time I'd been mistaken for Mother Teresa, but I'd be forgetting that time I fell asleep in a sauna and came out more wrinkled than Bruce Forsyth's elbow.

As a stand-up comedian, I've had to follow a variety of performers in my time, including dancers, magicians and a stripper on a horse. But I've never had to follow a nun. Sister Agnes entered before me dressed in a brown habit and Birkenstocks. I never trust people who wear sandals with everything. All I could do was sit on the side and wonder what her underwear was like. I kept thinking, "I bet it's kinky lace from Agent Provocateur. She looks the sort: all beige and demure on the outside, Jordan on the inside." She spoke about how she became a nun, then there was a Q&A session where students asked questions like, "Do you ever get pissed?" and, "How much sex can you have?"

They wanted me to "inspire" these schoolkids in some way. After my few jokes about anal sex and shoplifting from Primark, I don't know how inspirational I was. But sometimes it's inspiring enough just to be a brown woman saying "anal" in public.

The Q&A by these teenagers was quite challenging for me. They asked me, "What do you think of Gordon Brown?"; "Is the current economic climate a breeding ground for racial discontent?"; "Has Madonna had a facelift?" Actually, that last question was my own - the young women of tomorrow were too interested in pressing political issues to get mired in celebrity tittle-tattle. I realised I'd have to save for another time my anecdote about Lily Savage, Ulrika Jonsson and a Travelodge minibar.

Someone asked, "What do you think of the burka? Is it too restrictive?" I replied, "All my cousins in France wear the burka, which is great, because they all use the same bus pass."

I was performing in Paris this week, though, as Monsieur Sarkozy will be relieved to know, not in a burka. Someone suggested I visit the tourist attraction of Pθre Lachaise where the famous are buried. I had never before been to a cemetery, because my mum always told me the evil spirits would follow me home and sit on my face. The graves of dead people often reflect their lives - I went to Jim Morrison's, which was surrounded by metal barriers, and people had thrown cigarettes (new and used, legal and "herbal") on his gravestone. He died of a narcotics overdose. I'm sure he's had enough. Then I went over to Oscar Wilde's grave. There was a stone statue of a naked angel, but someone had snapped off its penis. Homophobia - when is it going to end for this poor man? If there's one thing worse than being talked about, it's having your dick snapped off.

On his gravestone someone had graffitied "Sodomy for ever" - I'm sure that wasn't one of Oscar's. This made me contemplate what would be on my gravestone. It would probably be quite crude, vaguely funny and have a massive postscript by my mum, telling the spirits to stay off my face. No fun for me then, not even in the afterlife.

• Shazia will appear at London's Roundhouse theatre from 6-9 August. This is her first column for Weekend. She will write weekly.

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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Sat Dec 12, 2009 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quite a funny article about HATE!
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 13, 2010 9:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Halal comedy? You might as well ask for halal bacon
The organiser said not to talk about religion, sex or the president. But when you tell a comedian not to do something …
Shazia Mirza,
12 April 2010

In all the countries that I have travelled to to perform standup comedy – the United States being a regular destination – I have never been held up or interrogated at customs. Or I hadn't, until I arrived in Pakistan last week. I spent six hours at Lahore customs, as I did not have a visa in my British passport to enter the country. The people who organised my gig had mistakenly assumed that because my parents were born in Pakistan and I too am brown, they would automatically let me in.

The customs officer asked: "Are you Pakistani?" Yes. "Where were you born?" England. "That makes you a foreigner." I get called a foreigner in my parents' country of birth, and I get called a foreigner in my own country of birth.

He looked through my passport, which is filled with US visas. He said: "Are you a spy?" No, I'm a standup comedian. "What's that?" I tell jokes. "And will you be doing that in this country?" Yes. "Oh, is this the entertainment for the Taliban?" he asked, quite seriously. No, I replied. He said: "What I should do is deport you, but if you give me $100, I'll see what I can do." I paid it. I got in.

My first performance took place at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums). The audience was made up mainly of lecturers and students, and as I arrived I was told: "Don't worry about performing – we've stepped up security because people knew you were coming."

The fact that there needed to be security at all to tell jokes indicated danger. Pakistan is a sexually repressed country, and that is the root of many of its problems. The last time I performed in Lahore I was told: "You can talk about anything you like – religion, politics, drugs, you can swear and curse, just don't mention 'The Sex'." Any sexual words or connotations were banned – because in Pakistan there is no mention of sex on television, radio, or in public.

In Lahore this time I am told by armed security personnel before going on stage: "Be careful, it's best you only do halal comedy." Halal comedy? There is no such thing. That's like saying, I only eat halal bacon. I had some requests from members of the audience who came to my dressing room before the show to ask me specifically to do jokes about sex and religion. Which is what I had intended to do, anyway.

After the gig I had to have two armed bodyguards outside my bedroom while I slept. (That's no use: I need uniformed men in my bed, not outside it.)

I then went to perform two hours away in Karachi. The audience consisted of young people, old people, women in burqas and groups of men – all sitting on the floor together. The doors were locked as soon as all the audience were in, and once again armed security guards stood outside.

On arrival I was told by the organiser: "The Pakistani Taliban are infiltrating down to the outskirts of Karachi now, so be careful with what you say. It's best not to talk about religion, or sex, and don't mention the word "gay"." Why? "Because gay doesn't exist in Pakistan," she explained.

Pakistan believes it has freedom of speech, but the only freedom you have is to comply with the speech they want to hear. She continued: "There is a law against making any jokes about President Zardari. You cannot make any jokes about him in public and you are not allowed to text any jokes to your friends about him, otherwise you will be put in prison."

When you tell a comedian not to do something, well. I made a joke about President Zardari. The audience loved it. They laughed like they had never laughed before.

The people in authority in Pakistan are telling the public what they can and cannot say, how to behave and what to wear – and this is totally incongruous with what the people really want. All the things the audience laughed at are the things they are most repressed about. Jokes about sex, religion and politics got the most laughter.

After the show I was invited to a party. I walked in, to be offered a joint of marijuana, followed by a joint of opium, followed by vodka and then a discussion on porn.

I was asked: "What's your favourite porn film?" I have never watched porn. I tried to lie but I couldn't think of a porn movie, so I told the truth: I've never watched porn. This was met with "You've never watched porn? Let us show you some!" A collection of 600 films was pulled out from behind the bookcase. I was then offered a male Russian hooker for the night.

There it is – the hypocrisy of a sexually repressed, censored society: I can't say "gay" on stage, but after the show, opium and prostitutes are on offer.
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