'People had better not cancel me after this'

Shazia Mirza

Muswell Hill comic Shazia Mirza plays Arts Depot on October 29. - Credit: Idil Sukan

Shazia Mirza's new show has been "re-written 11 times" during lockdowns, but she kept the title because "it's too expensive to get it changed on the posters".

Coconut arrives at North Finchley's Arts Depot, hot on the heels of a British Comedy Award nomination. The Hampstead comic is clearly pleased, although her self-deprecating riposte is "to be honest it's not that good".

It was part inspired by appearing on Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, and partly as a riff about labels and identity.

"Bear Grylls is not a reality programme, it's a survival programme," she asserts. "It's not about popularity, they don't give you any food and don't help you. It's a life-changing situation. The most difficult thing I've done in my life. Every time I'm in a difficult situation I think 'I survived that, I can survive anything."

She adds: "On the island, because I caught fish I was a strong woman, but the men who didn't make it to the end were called 'weak'. They called me 'strong' but they never saw me crying in Poundland because I couldn't find my toothpaste."

She goes on to talk about famous women such as Princess Di: "In her Martin Bashir interview she talked about being labelled a 'strong woman' and why the royals saw her as a threat, yet she tried to commit suicide four times. These labels are useless."

The pandemic has given Mirza "breathing space" and a fresh perspective.

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"I have done stand up every night of my life. It's so consuming, I was either doing it or coming back from a gig, but because I stopped for a year I've seen things differently. I probably needed that space to stand back and think: 'What do I really want to say? What do I think is funny?' 

"I talk from personal experience, and maybe I am more honest than I've ever been."

Shazia Mirza

Shazia Mirza's latest show is called Coconut - Credit: Idil Sukan

Mirza says she's a stand-up because "I get bored easily", but adds: "It doesn't get easier, it gets more difficult. You think 'how am I going to generate ideas? Am I funny? You are only funny that night on stage, and have to keep proving it to yourself."

And of course comedians now have to worry about getting cancelled.

"Jeni Murray has been cancelled, JK Rowling. Who does the cancelling?" asks the comic whose deadpan post 911 opener was: "Hi, I'm Shazia Mirza. At least that's what it says on my pilot's licence." 

She says: "I don't understand what's going on. I am a stand up comedian, I have to go on stage and make people laugh and tell the truth. It's the most difficult art form and now it's being made even more difficult by people telling us what you can and can't say.

"That kind of destroys the art form, which about the freedom to say what you want. What I say is my truth. You might not like it, it might not be your truth. What was brilliant about Richard Prior, Robin Williams and Dave Allen is they told the truth about their life, and when I hear people like David Jason say 'comedy is dying because people can't be funny about what they want' I know exactly what they mean."

Identity, she says, seemed "very simple" when she was growing up.

"What I am seemed obvious to me, a Muslim girl growing up in Birmingham. I never had to question it, you were too busy surviving to give it any thought. Now we live in a different time. People are going to be offended by what I say. You can say anything and people will be offended. I don't worry about that, I only have to leave the house and people will be offended, but it's very rare that I get offended. If I do, I go to bed, wake up and feel ok. But these people get offended for weeks on end."

The other post pandemic change is having to get dressed again.

"I did a gig and had to wear trousers. It took an hour to get them on. It's such a effort - and I have to be funny on top. God, people had better not cancel me after this!"

Coconut is at Arts Depot on October 29.