Shazia Mirza – “Professional Brown Person” at the Ustinov Studio

Shazia-MirzaFurther to my recent post Was it only in Jest? this is a short post on Shazia Mirza whom we have just seen in her new show, “The Kardashians Made Me Do It“, at the Ustinov Studio, Bath.  My usual refrain now is “this isn’t a review“, instead it is more my thoughts on seeing the show which we both enjoyed.  I like female comedians generally as they provide a good counter-balance to the usual parade of male stand-ups and I want to hear what their distinctive view is, if anything.  Mirza has more going for her though as she is also of Pakistani descent (though always being mistaken for Indian, apparently) and Muslim!  A trifecta as the Aussies would say.

Mirza uses her own experiences as all three of the above to generate her comedy but she is also a journalist, or rather, she writes for the Guardian and New Statesman which seems to be quite common nowadays with both Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle writing regular columns for the Guardian and I am sure there are many other examples.  This ties in with my comments à propos Lee and the function of the modern stand-up performer as a commentator on contemporary social mores and political issues to the extent that they need not actually be “funny” all the time.  When the majority of so-called politicians are a bunch of mealy-mouthed, pusillanimous apparatchiks (i.e. an unquestioningly loyal subordinate, especially of a political leader or organization) the question is, to paraphrase Lee “Who wilst spakey for some sort of truth and integrity?” 

In her latest show that she has only just started touring Mirza takes us through a range of topics related to being a woman, a Muslim and of Pakistani descent which gradually focus more and more tightly on the issue of “radicalisation” and ISIS and while she has some good jokes about these the show does shift gears somewhat towards the end – which could, perhaps be managed a little better as the show is honed – that finds her quoting from the Hadith to illustrate exactly why the jihadists of ISIS are in fact not true to the words and intent of the Prophet, which they would know if they actually knew anything about Islam and its Prophet.

A high profile "Guardian" reader on his way to work
A high profile “Guardian” reader on his way to work

So my point is that nowadays a portion of “comedians” are an alternative way to attend a political rally and that is not meant in a bad way but a good way.  Admittedly, if we weren’t all “Guardian readers” as Mirza accused us all at the outset (which is a bit rich considering she is a Guardian writer for heaven’s sake!) that might make these shows quite effective as good old-fashioned “consciousness-raising” exercises.  But I can’t think that many of the girls heading to Raqqa that Mirza takes to task would find themselves at one of her shows, more’s the pity.

Just so you don’t think that I am idealising comedy and comedian’s too much this is a salutary reminder that there is still a long way to go from a Guardian interview with Mirza who recounts that:

While white, male comics detailing their own lives were assumed to be talking about universal experiences, when she did the same as a Muslim woman, it drew complaints that she was a one-trick pony. ‘People on the comedy circuit were vile to me. They said I only got where I was because I was a Muslim, I was always banging on about Muslims and I wasn’t funny.’

This even tipped over into physical assault. “One night I was doing some material about suicide bombers and there was a white, male comedian watching at the back. He had a reputation for being aggressive to women and when I came off the stage he grabbed me by the neck and dragged me into the cloakroom. He was shouting and screaming and saying, ‘If you are going to steal material, don’t steal it from me.’ The organiser came and pulled him off. But I was so shocked.

To which I can only add, “me too“.

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