Laughs in the face of terror

Written By: Cary Gee
Published: April 12, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

Shazia Mirza: The Kardashians Made Me Do It

Soho Theatre, London


“My Name is Shazia Mirza – at least, that’s what it says on my pilot’s licence.” In the wake of the 9-11 bombings this was the joke that catapulted former science teacher Shazia Mirza into the position of “go-to” Muslim comic. Perhaps her femininity made it easier to laugh. But Mirza has come a long way since then. For her it is no longer enough to collect plaudits as Asian Woman of the Year – “I won it just for leaving the house” – she is here to prove that she deserves her position at comedy’s top table, regardless of race or gender. Gone is the headscarf, replaced by a sparkly top, “for my gay fans”.

Gone, too, is the self-consciousness at her still unusual situation. The very fact that a straight-talking Pakistani woman comic brought up in a strict Muslim household has gay fans at all is as much a credit to Mirza’s ability to provoke laughter in the face of terror, as it is with her audience’s belated realisation that laughter is universal.

That’s not to say that her audacious evisceration of homegrown Islamic extremism doesn’t still cause nervousness in some quarters. This show was originally going to be called The Road to al Baghdadi (after the leader of Islamic State) but Mirza’s hosts recoiled in fear of retribution. Instead she opted for The Kardashians in reference to the fact that the sister of one of the girls who ran away from the Bethnal Green “Jihademi’ to join IS told a House of Commons Select Committee that she was a perfectly average schoolgirl who used to watch The Kardashians, as though this is a barometer of normalcy.

Their absconding had nothing to do with religion, says Mirza. “They think they’ve gone on a Club 18-30 holiday to Ibiza… they’re not religious, they’re horny, and looking for an Halal version of Brad Pitt. “These would-be Jihadi brides even packed an epilator, prompting Mirza to caustically suggest that if they need to trim their bikini lines they are too old for IS in the first place. Suddenly the idea that we will soon be living in a Caliphate seems as absurd as it does tragic.

A pretty blonde consuming a cream egg in the front row is asked what she does for a living. “I work in counter-terrorism’ comes the unexpected reply. “Don’t you think you’re a racist for coming to see my show?’ asks Mirza, as quick to shoot down “liberals” who struggle to see beyond her colour as she is extremists.

She scorns a newspaper editorial that claims Nadia, who won The Great British Bake Off, did more for race relations than any government. “A woman wins a baking competition and suddenly she’s Nelson fucking Mandela. Why can’t a Muslim woman just be credited for being good at what she does?” Of course, you can never be sure that the Muslim lady who boards your bus in London wearing a burkha is a lady at all. “She’s probably a man using his elderly mother’s bus pass!” I daren’t even tell you what the burkha-clad shoppers at Harrods get up to. Suffice to say, it’s not called a big tent for nothing!

Like all comics who have something of genuine interest to say, Mirza pushes her audience just as far as it is prepared to go, which this evening is considerably further than many will have been pushed before. The result is not only brave, but often breath-taking. Mirza concludes with a translation (accompanied by a short video) of Hadith number 557, in which the prophet foretells and condemns a group such as IS, leaving you in no doubt that Mirza is every bit as necessary as she is funny. As long as this Asian Woman of the Year is out and about, it’s your duty to leave your own house and see her.

About Cary Gee

Cary Gee is a freelance journalist and Tribune columnist