My pilot

SUNANDA MEHTA, Indian Express,November 09, 2006

PUNE, NOVEMBER 8: • I got on the plane to Denmark dressed like this, and this woman refused to sit next to me. So I said to her, ‘I’m going to sit on this plane and blow it up. And you think you’re going to be safer three rows back?’

I’m really pleased to be here tonight actually…because my dad has let me out for the night. So I’m not going to stay long. Actually, he’s picking me up in 10 minutes. He thinks this is a library.

“MY name is Shazia Mirza — at least that’s what it says on my pilot’s licence.”

That’s how Mirza began to open her act making her one of the hottest and the rarest — woman & Muslim — on the comedy circuit in the UK. Her gags on the hijab and every conservative practice her religion prescribes for women are a laugh riot.

Yet, when she comes to India this week to perform in Mumbai tomorrow and Pune on Saturday — brought to India by the British Council — she plans to leave behind her bag of controversial gags and embark on a “more evolved’’ performance.

“I will narrate all of my best jokes since this is my first performance in India, but I want to move beyond my Muslim comic label,’’ says Mirza, 30, who catapulted to fame post 9/11 with her one-liners on Saddam — if you want to look for WMDs, look behind the purdah — to marriage: My mother has been trying to marry me off ever since I was 18…months old.

Starting in 2001, for the first six months, Mirza performed on stage with her head covered in a scarf, coupling the look with her take on her community and its conservative morality. The novelty of the combination took off and she soon began running to packed houses, even in the US. “The community was shocked at first. They thought something was wrong with me — why would a normal woman want to behave like this? But now they just love it,” says Mirza.

After six years, Mirza wants to change her tune. “I want to now move beyond the Asian Muslim comic typecast, which is why my performance in India will be as funny but will be more about life and everyday things,” she says. So do not expect her to repeat cracks like “If men are the ones with no self control, why do we have to be covered from head to toe? Surely it’s them who should be covered up, or better still, chained.”

Instead, expect her to say that she’s really looking forward to coming to India and “getting my eyebrows threaded at those affordable salons and going back looking like Aishwarya Rai”.

Three words she’d use to describe India? “Over populated, funny, corrupt,” comes the reply. Mirza says she accidentally stumbled upon the unconventional career of a comedian after an uninspired teaching stint. “The kids hated me and I hated them. The only way I could survive was by making them laugh. Later, I decided to do this full time,” says the Birmingham-based performer, whose parents are from Pakistan.

Often referred to as “the new voice of the Britsh Asians”, Mirza says she will get married “because regardless of the fact that you are an astronaut or a comedian, an Asian girl is not really happy till she is married. So my parents live in hope.” Until then, she can laugh.

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