Shazia Mirza is back in town
She's an ex-science teacher (“I hated them, they hated me”), yet former pupil Dizzee Rascal still calls her Miss. We chat with this fierce comedian as she takes her tour on the road
Shazia Mirza is a hilarious, headline-grabbing comedian. The “disappointing daughter” of Muslim parents from Pakistan, her strict, traditional upbringing fuels no-holds-barred stand-up, delivering searing routines on Brexit, burqas, butt-plugs and jihadi brides.
With numerous stand-up shows to her name and two recent international tours (The Kardashians Made Me Do it and With Love from St Tropez), Shazia’s also been to hell and back in Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls and got up to speed on Top Gear (2.07 seconds to be exact). This woman takes no prisoners.
Her current show Coconut launched at the Edinburgh Fringe ready for a 2020 tour, but “then one day in March, the world ended. I thought I’d better change my show and make it more relevant: no one cares about reality TV, celebrity and me starving in a jungle – let’s get real.”
We caught up with Shazia to see how things have changed…
Before the 2020 apocalypse, what was Coconut about?
The Island with Bear Grylls and why women are better survivors. Despite the self-confessed Alpha Males, only two men survived. All the women did. The pandemic was about people surviving too, so I didn’t have to rewrite the whole thing!
What exactly is a Strong Woman?
On The Island I did all the fishing and kept everyone alive, so people refer to me as a ‘strong woman’. But what does that label mean? Why do we have this thing about calling everybody strong? Because in the pandemic I was just sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas, stuffing myself with Nutella, watching documentaries on Ted Bundy. And there was nothing strong about me.
Any hints on the new material?
Princesses taking on the royal family. No-one wants a lecture or anything too dark or intellectual. More than anything else, people are desperate for a laugh – that’s all we really want right now.
Where did you get your creative inspiration in lockdown ?
There were so many big things happening within the pandemic, I thought I don’t really need to leave the house. And at the same time, we were all watching the same thing, doing the same thing, all baking cakes and eating them. Cake is such a big thing. People eat cake when they’re depressed, people eat cake when they’re happy. Whatever I say about this time, everybody will be able to relate to it.
Are you still alarmed about the eyebrow crisis?
It’s happened even MORE since the pandemic! Not having real eyebrows has become normal. People say to me are those your real eyebrows? Of course they are! Why would I put fake eyebrows on?!
Do you have a hair hero?
Oh, I do! Farrah Fawcett. We used to watch Charlie’s Angels all the time. My mum had a Farrah Fawcett hairdo and I just thought Farrah’s hair is amazing. Though in lockdown my Farrah was downhill all the way.
You’re known as a brave woman with attitude. Are you a born extrovert?
No, I’m an introvert. I’m the quietest person at a party, standing in the corner. I just observe people. Most stand-ups I know are extremely quiet, extremely introvert. They are the NOT the funniest people in the room. And I think that that’s how you have to be, to give it all on stage.
So when someone thinks their hilarious mate should be on stage…
If people say I’ve got a friend who wants to do stand-up, he’s so funny in the pub, I just think, NO, no comedian is funny in the pub. I mean, we’re funny on stage because we’ve honed our material and we’ve honed our craft. But funny in the the pub – that’s ordinary people.
So who’s the funniest ordinary person you know?
I know a lot. Parents are funny. My parents would be very funny on stage, but for all the wrong reasons. I’d be horrified if they said they were going to do stand-up.
Your ultra-strict upbringing is a great source of material. Would you be doing stand-up if you were from a more liberal background?
Definitely not. Comedy is a form of rebellion against something. There’s something wrong with you if you want to do stand-up. Anybody that’s happy, who’s had a stable, normal upbringing will not be a stand-up comedian. And if they are, they’ll have nothing to talk about so they’ll be rubbish.
How come all your comic heroes are American?
Today it’s difficult to take the art form and make something new out of it. The great American comics – George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce – were pioneers. One-offs. The first to say something, like Richard Pryor on race. And Joan Rivers was a Jewish woman, the first female to host an American chat show.
Robin Williams just excelled in every genre, all areas of comedy. He smashed it. They were the first and they were originals. But it doesn’t mean life was easier for people that came after them because there’s still a struggle for women, black and ethnic comics in stand-up. Richard Pryor was an icon talking about race back in the 70s and 80s, but it doesn’t mean things change. It just means that somebody has done it. So therefore it’s possible for you to do it.
Why choose comedy?
It’s a very instant and direct artform. If you’re funny, you’ll hear the laughter, it will be immediate and you’ll get instant feedback. If you’re not funny, you’ll die onstage. So there’s a meritocracy.
What’s better, live or TV?
If you only watch TV you won’t necessarily see the funniest and best comedians. Comedy is hard because it’s so subjective. So you see what one commissioner chooses and there are brilliant comedians on the circuit who’ll never get on TV. Audiences need live comedy to make their own discoveries.
Is there a typical Shazia audience?
Gay men! From the beginning of my career it has always been gay men!
So you’re the Dolly Parton of Comedy?
I’ll take that. I saw her at Glastonbury and it was the largest crowd I have ever seen there. It was the first time I really realised that EVERYBODY loves Dolly Parton.
What do you love about Dolly?
What’s surprising about her, which seems against today’s world, is that I don’t know anything about her personal life, her opinions or what she thinks about the world. And that’s very unusual. She’s just Dolly.
Shazia’s brilliant revamped Coconut will be heading to Colchester in February next year. Watch this space for more updates!
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