Muslim stand-up comic Shazia Mirza shatters taboos all around.
Tijn Touber| Jan/Feb 2007 issue
My name is Shazia Mirza; at least that’s what it says on my pilot’s licence.” This is how Muslim stand-up comedienne Shazia Mirza opened her routine after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It had taken Mirza a few weeks to summon the courage to get back to the podium, but she returned with a bang. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Yet this British-born Pakistani is now doing everything she can to shed her image as a “Muslim comedienne.” “I’m first and foremost a comedian,” says Mirza, who will soon be travelling to the United States to try and sell her idea for a sitcom, “and I don’t want to be associated with my origins for the rest of my life.”
However understandable that may be, the impact of a veiled Muslim woman who has the guts to make jokes about Osama bin Laden is significant in itself . The 31-year-old Mirza is breaking plenty of taboos. If, for example, you ask Mirza – who describes herself as a “moderate but devout” Muslim – why her mother always walks a couple of paces behind her father, she says: “He looks better from behind.” Or: “We always let the man walk in front because you never know where the land mines are.”
Because Mirza – like many other Muslims raised in the West—found herself living a cultural and religious split, she’s extremely good at ridiculing both cultures. In one of her shows, she says: “I always wanted to be like my white friends, who had abortions, herpes and chlamydia.” Judgments about “those poor Muslim women,” she feels, are due for an overhaul.
The clever thing about Mirza, moreover, is that thanks to her mild tone, she manages not to polarize. She says: “It confuses people that I wear a veil and am funny. It breaks down stereotypes … I’m allowing [people] to laugh when normally they wouldn’t be allowed to laugh for fear of being condemned as racist or something.”
Until she realizes her dream of having her own sitcom in the United States and roles in Hollywood films, we can continue to laugh at her hilarious jokes about issues that very few talk of openly. An example: “I’m terrified I’ll die a virgin. Not because I’m obsessed with sex. I’m not; I don’t think it’s that big a deal. But I don’t want to get to paradise and have to sleep with one of the suicide bombers.
More information: www.shaziamirza.org