“Are women just a fashion?”: Shazia Mirza talks feminism, family and fighting for survival

By April 4, 2018


Shazia Mirza. Photo: Amelia Troubridge

Straight-talking stand-up comedian Shazia Mirza has never been one to shy away from courting controversy. Following her highly successful yet divisive 2016 show about ISIS, The Kardashians Made Me Do It, Mirza returns with new piece With Love from St Tropez that addresses entirely different yet similarly provocative subject matters. In this brief conversation, Mirza talks feminism in her trademark candid style.

You described your last show as “the funniest show you’ve ever done”. Is With Love from St Tropez funnier?

My last show was all about politics, people being offended and young people wanting to join Isis. I said it was my funniest show because it’s hard to make topics like that funny  I managed to do that, and that’s such an achievement. This show is really different. It’s about the world  Trump, Brexit and how everybody’s a feminist. In comedy now, you don’t have to make anything up. It’s all out there. I could just sit on a bus and I could get an hour of material listening to people talking about the state of the world.

You mentioned feminism, how does that feature in your show?

Women are in fashion now. People want women to have the jobs [in comedy]. They always want a woman on the panel. I wonder how long it will last. Will white men eventually make a comeback? Also, it’s very confusing to people, what feminism actually is. What is feminism? All this being photographed naked on a horse or a donkey or a beach ball and then saying “I’m a feminist”  that is very confusing for people. When I talk about this in my stand-up, I see men and women nodding, going “Yeah, what is that?” Emily Davison threw herself under the king’s horse and died because she was fighting for women’s rights. And now, you’re skipping off and rolling around in spaghetti and you’re saying you’re the same as her. That’s really confusing for men and women. So I talk a lot about that in my show.

What about progress for women in comedy. Do you think more progress needs to take place?

Loads of progress has happened, in that women now have a voice. It’s only progress if it lasts and there’s permanence. If it’s going to go back to white men making all the decisions, and lots of white men in comedy, then nothing’s changed. Are women just a phase? Are women just a fashion? Only time will tell. There are more women now in comedy and that’s great, but pretty white girls have always got the jobs. I think we need different types of women too. We need lots of different points of view that aren’t all white middle class.

You write a lot about your family in your material. Do you believe that people, relationships and family members are all fair game when it comes to writing comedy?

When I need material, I go home and sit in the living room and I tape my parents. I put them in my material because that’s real life, [and] a lot of it is unflattering. But yes, it’s a subject everyone can relate to  everybody’s got crazy parents, nobody comes from a normal family, regardless of race background or religion.

You dabbled in reality TV last year by taking part in Channel 4’s, Bear Grylls’ The Island. How did going into and out of that experience affect you?

I wouldn’t take part in ordinary reality TV. That show was about survival; it was very real. He dropped us on an island with no normal clothes or mobile phone and we had to survive. It really taught you a lot about yourself mentally. It was all very real. Bear Grylls said if you can do this you can do anything. If you can survive that awful situation, you can do anything in your life and you do feel that when you come off.

You’re touring at the moment. Is there a UK town or city where you consistently enjoy gigging time and time again? If so, what makes that gig such a special one?

I love Hebden Bridge. It’s full of women, always loads of women come to see me. It’s a very rich part of Yorkshire, and the people who come to see me are very well educated and very intelligent. They like challenging stuff; it’s a really forward-thinking part of Yorkshire. I also love it because I love Alan Bennett and I love Alan Bennett’s books, so when I’m up there and I chat to people that kind of normal Yorkshire life, it reminds me of him. I think people like it when you’re doing something different, they come to see something they wouldn’t normally see. With stand-up, you have an opportunity to show them something different and people really appreciate that.

With Love From St Tropez tours nationwide until July 13th.