The award winning British/Asian Muslim comedian Shazia Mirza is returning to Dubai and Abu Dhabi this month. She talks to us about how stand-up comedy knows no boundaries.
Shazia Mirza is returning to the UAE
As a Muslim comic from Britain with roots in Pakistan, Shazia Mirza has been turning heads and cracking smiles for 12 years. She performs in Dubai Sunday.
Mirza, who last performed in Dubai in 2005, strives to connect with her audience, as many comics do, by finding common ground.
"I like to talk about everyday things that people can relate to and we can all have a good laugh about," says Mirza. "In comedy there are no taboos. You can talk about anything as long as it's funny enough. I think of myself as just a comedian. I am not affected by what people think or say. It doesn't determine the things that I say on stage."
She lists comics from the US among her favourites: Louis CK, Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor and Chris Rock.
Mirza, who picked up the 2010 Asian Women of Achievement Award in arts and culture, will next head to San Francisco to record a comedy CD.
"It will be an audio CD you can listen to in the car, for example. Many comedians do this before recording a DVD," she says. "I'll finish it in May or June and it will be released a couple of weeks or so after that."
Among her other plans while she's in the US? "Do some live shows, TV and marry George Clooney."
Breaking into film
After working as a script consultant on the 2010 comedy movie The Infidel and a producer on the documentary short Train of Broken Light (2012), Mirza is keen to emulate many comics and forge a career in movies and on the small screen.
"I would love to do more comedy films," she says. "Something like Borat. I'm also looking into roles in sitcoms, because that's what interests me the most."
She has slowly made a name for herself over the past decade in her native UK, appearing on shows including the popular Richard & Judy, as well as in the US, which can be tough for British comics to crack. In 2004, the respected US news magazine 60 Minutes dedicated an interview segment to her. She was introduced to a different audience on the NBC reality series Last Comic Standing in 2008, where she was a semi-finalist.
"Shows like 60 Minutes and Last Comic Standing are learning blocks that you go through that help you become better," says Mirza.
The Comedy Dubai co-founder Robert Hillier calls Mirza "an inspiration in an industry still dominated by men, proving that a woman, and a Muslim woman, can make a success out of comedy".
Laughs, regardless of religion or gender
"Growing up, we always had comedy on in our house. We always loved watching all sitcoms and all comedies," she says. "I was interested in writing it at first, then, once I started performing, I loved it and just wanted to carry on."
At a 2009 show in Stockholm, she pointed out that not everyone finds her chosen career funny.
"I get a lot of hate mail from Muslim men," she said, to laughs from the Swedish audience. "I had this email last week, it said: 'You do comedy. You are a prostitute'. I had to point out prostitutes earn more money."
Mirza describes her style as mostly observational and says it often includes improvisation.
"I don't talk about 'Muslims' or 'women'. I talk about my life: what is true to me, my observations and opinions on the world," Mirza says. "I try to avoid what people expect me to talk about. If I'm not interested in something, I won't bother talking about it."
She isn't fazed by negative reactions, emphasising the most important thing is having fun on stage and working on her material.
"I travel quite a lot and wherever I go is always a new experience - no two shows are ever the same," she says. "I was in Denmark a couple of weeks ago and that was very interesting because the crowd and line-up was so diverse."
Shazia Mirza performs at 8pm in Sunday at The Fairmont, Palm Jumeirah. Tickets cost Dh130 at the door. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ComedyDubai
Comedy Dubai, which organises open-mic nights, comedy events and workshops around the city, presents Shazia Mirza’s show as part of its first anniversary celebrations.
When Mirza first performed in Dubai in 2005, the comedy scene in the Emirates was in its infancy. However, with an increasing number of events per month, the standard of comedy has improved noticeably, says Robert Hillier, the group’s co-founder: “I think a night at one of our events is no different to a ‘professional’ show, and sometimes even better.”
Hillier says there is plenty of talent in the UAE simply looking for the right platform.
“There’s still room for more events, no doubt, and more events that reflect the diversity and humour that’s to be found here,” he says.
“We set up Comedy Dubai because there was nowhere to perform. And this being Dubai, the best thing is to take control of your own destiny and start up your own nights.”
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