The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mission impossible: making US laugh
- UK comic to ease america’s grim mood

London, March 28: Shazia Mirza, who has made a name as a stand-up Muslim comedienne in Britain, has been invited to the US on the seemingly impossible mission of making the Americans laugh about the present grim situation.

“I have been invited to San Francisco on May 16 to do a show there, and then to New York,” disclosed Mirza, whose parents came to Britain from Pakistan.

The Birmingham girl has come a long way since she first made her appearance two years ago at the age of 25.

For the past few weeks, she is being accompanied to all her gigs in Britain by a feature writer from the New York Times who has come from New York to do a three-page article on Mirza for his colour magazine.

Le Monde, the French paper, sent a correspondent to London to cover her act, and the Boston Globe reporter in Germany wrote a positive article about Mirza after seeing two of her shows last month. She has also been invited to South Africa in September.

Mirza is scared that the Muslim community in Britain will face a possible backlash, now that both George W. Bush and Tony Blair have admitted that the war against Saddam Hussein could last months, not weeks.

“Anyone with a moustache is now a target,” she lamented. “My mum’s been attacked.”

She is now preparing to unleash her humour on the Americans. For example, she talked of a recent edition of Newsnight, a BBC2 heavyweight political programme which addressed the question of why Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction had not so far been uncovered.

She advanced her own explanation: “He’s hidden them in his wife’s purdah — no one has thought of looking there.”

She spoke of a recent trip to Germany, when she urged the Germans to get into the fighting, though she did not specify on which side. “Come on, Germany, join the war,” she appealed. “It’s not the same without you.”

She has developed one sketch which depicts Bush and Saddam as a couple of cockney wide boys getting into a brawl in an East End pub, with Blair trying to break them up.

How Mirza will be received in America is an unknown quantity, but she has found people in Germany to be wonderfully receptive to her, though she finds the German sense of humour is “still in development”.

Mirza asked the American journalist the names of the other people he had interviewed for his magazine. He told her that Catherine Zeta-Jones and Julia Roberts had been among his subjects.

As Mirza emerged into the streets from a show in London’s Soho this week, she was approached by two boys who wanted her autograph. The American journalist was impressed. “This didn’t happen when I was with Robert Redford,” he observed.

When Mirza first hit the scene in Britain, she took a risk because she was inevitably seen as a Muslim woman making fun of her own community. But her ambition was to act as a safety valve in society, firstly, by making Muslims laugh at themselves, and, secondly, by pointing out to others the stereotypical image they had of Islam.

After the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, Mirza’s opening remark to her audiences was a dead pan: “My name’s Shazia Mirza — at least, that’s what it says on my pilot’s licence.”

If the Americans think that Mirza will target only Saddam and spare Bush, they may be disappointed. “I am anti-war, everybody is anti-war,” she emphasised. Referring to the war in Afghanistan, she asked: “What good did it do'”

Mirza said she was writing new material, arising out of the present situation and her personal experiences. Her orthodox parents’ attempts to “marry me off” are a constant refrain. “I focus on my personal experiences as a Muslim woman,” she explained.

When she flew to Denmark recently, she noticed that another woman passenger refused to sit next to her. Mirza felt this was because she was wearing a hejab. “I am a stand-up comedienne, not a terrorist,” Mirza said she thought at the time. “Would she be any safer three seats away if I was going to blow up the plane'”

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