The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Black humour tickles the White

Edinburgh, Aug. 5 (Reuters): British Muslim comedienne Shazia Mirza strides on stage dressed all in black and says: “Don’t worry, I won’t blow you up.”

The predominantly White audience titters nervously but she soon has them onside with another caustic one-liner: “My name is Shazia Mirza. At least that is what it says on my pilot’s licence.”

Then it is onto the Saudi Arabian women caught stealing on security cameras. “Police are looking for a woman with brown eyes,” she said, delivering her deadpan humour with a face as sombre as her traditional dress. The crowd at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival lap it up.

From New York to the Netherlands, Mirza — the daughter of Pakistani immigrants to Britain — loves to mock Western ignorance of Islam, using her literally veiled humour to push out the boundaries of taste.

It has worked well. She has been garlanded with awards and acclaimed as a positive role model for British Muslim women in a multi-cultural society.

“I just tell the truth. If it makes people uncomfortable, it’s they who have a problem,” she said.

New York certainly was a challenge. “They had never seen a Muslim woman doing stand-up,” she said. But humour is a lifeline. “I spoke to a woman in New York who had been helping over at Ground Zero. She said if it hadn’t been for her sense of black humour, she would never have got through.” Ground Zero was the scene of devastation in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, suicide attacks on the twin towers.

Mirza, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants to Britain, learnt the hard way to face a tough audience — she worked as a teacher in a rough London neighbourhood.

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