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Interview with Shazia Mirza

3 January 2016 | Ryan Ormonde

Described as ‘brave and urgent’ by The Telegraph, Shazia Mirza’s comedy show The Kardashians Made Me Do It goes on tour in 2016 with London dates including Soho Theatre. London Calling catches up with her for a chat.

LC: This is the third run of your show?

SM: Initially it was just about Isis and jihadi brides. It was based on those three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green who went to join Isis.  Since then, so much has happened and I’ve added new bits. It’s about political correctness and people being offended. The first half is about that: people complaining about me, saying that they were offended about things that I’d said. Then the second half was really about Isis and the girls going and people not being really able to say what they thought because they were worried about offending certain people.

LC: Do you think people feel more emboldened to speak the truth now as the situation develops?

SM: Yes, even six months ago people were worried about offending people or saying the wrong thing. They didn’t want the situation to escalate or things to be blown out of proportion. But now everything has escalated so much that now you’re getting people speaking out who would not have probably spoken out before. Now everybody’s joining in and there’s so much debate and discussion everywhere. It really gives people the opportunity to either ring up and say what they want on a radio station or anonymously write comments and articles on the Internet, which they may not have had the courage to do before. But now because everybody’s kind of affected by what’s going on, everybody feels that they can have a say.

LC: Were you pleased to see the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv being used earlier this year?

SM: Well there’s been other hashtags well before that. The Sun put on the front of the paper ‘1 in 5 Muslims support Isis’ so then there was a hashtag #1in5Muslims. Then Muslims took the piss and they started hashtags like ‘#1in5Muslims has stolen shoes from a mosque’ or ‘#1in5muslims wash their feet in the sink’. [In my show] I had a hashtag #MuslimsAgainstIsis - that was eight months ago. So there’s been loads of hashtags before this. Hashtags don’t change the world. Hashtags are not going to stop terrorism. Hashtags are not going to stop people being stabbed and blown up. So I think when people focus too much on hashtags I don’t really understand that. That’s not actually doing anything.

I don’t think we have to start a hashtag to say that we don’t agree with Isis. I don’t know why - and this is a new section that I’ve put in my show - why does everybody expect us to come out and denounce Isis? Surely you should know that any peace-loving, right-thinking person is not going to support Isis. Why do you think that we do secretly and why do we have to come out and keep saying that we don’t? I don’t understand why we have to do that. And then there’s a hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv - we all join in and say we agree with that. So what? It’s not going to stop Islamophobia or people being stabbed in a Tube station. Yeah, we don’t agree with it, so what are we going to do about it?

LC: Do you get annoyed with social media?

SM: No, I’m not on there a lot. I don’t tweet a lot; I don’t post anything on Facebook unless it’s about our work. I read a lot of stuff that people write on there, I do read stuff that my friends and other comedians post and we do live in a democracy, so anyway we can say what we want and we can express our views, that’s great. On a small scale it probably changes things, to get a campaign going. Or it shows public opinion so the Government has to take notice of what people are for or against. Social media can help that. But on a really big scale, hashtags and tweeting stuff - it’s not going to eradicate Isis.

LC: You used to write a column called ‘Diary of a Disappointing Daughter’. Do you think there was a sitcom in there?

SM: That title was not my idea it was the Guardian’s idea, they wanted me to call it that. It’s just about really how I disappointed my parents because I’m not a doctor and I just didn’t do what they told me to do. But I’m sure there’s a lot of kids out there that have disappointed their parents. It could be a sitcom, because we all disappoint our parents to some degree.

LC: Would you have called it something else then?

SM: I did suggest two other titles but they wanted to call it that. So they obviously thought I was a disappointing daughter otherwise they wouldn’t have asked me to do it!

LC: Can you tell me about the title for this show, The Kardashians Made Me Do It?

SM: When the three girls from Bethnal Green went to join Isis, their parents were called into the Home Affairs select committee by Keith Vaz. He wanted to ask the parents why their daughters had gone to Syria and the family [of one girl] told the Government they couldn’t understand why she had gone because she watched the Kardashians. That was the reason they gave the Government. They used to watch the Kardashians like everybody else and then they wanted to join Isis. I mean, I know you can’t blame the Kardashians for everything but...

Originally I wanted to call the show The Road to al-Baghdadi because the leader of Isis is called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but the Tricycle wouldn’t let me because they were really worried about attracting the wrong sort of attention. They were really worried, they said it would end up on Twitter and Isis might see it and they could get into serious trouble.

LC: Did you think they had a point?

SM: No, I thought it was ridiculous because it’s a comedy show. It’s called The Road to al-Baghdadi but what did they think was going to happen? They were scared of Isis. They said it will end up on Twitter, Isis will see it and we could get into serious trouble. And then I thought, what are you going to do, be scared of the terrorists all your life if you can’t even call a comedy show that? They were worried that they were going to attract the wrong sort of attention - I don’t know maybe they thought Abu Hamza would turn up or something. So I had to change it. So I called it that.

LC: Are you bemused when people think you’re brave for what you do?

SM: I don’t know, I don’t even know what it means. I don’t understand. I don’t know what that means. Because I just stand on stage really and tell jokes.

LC: Some people are terrified about the idea of doing that.

SM: What’s more terrifying would probably be going into a burning building to save somebody’s life or me cutting somebody’s heart open and hoping they’re going to live in an hour. I don’t understand that. I don’t know what it means. I can’t relate to it at all.

The Kardashians Made Me Do It plays various London dates in February, March and April in 2016, including 5 nights at the Soho Theatre from 1 March. For more information and to book tickets, see website.

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