Comedian Shazia Mirza understands San Francisco.
“It’s not like the rest of America,” Mirza says. “I can do material there and people will understand it, and they’ll know what I’m talking about. In San Francisco they’re very intelligent, very funny and very gay.”
Mirza, appearing at the Punch Line on Wednesday, is British, Muslim and female – all traits that color her material.
She has done stand-up in a burqa, quipped about her pilot license and dares to do racy material in heavily censored locales.
“In India, the police asked for copies of my jokes beforehand, to investigate whether they were offensive or not,” says Mirza. “I think the only reason I got the OK is that they didn’t really understand them.”
Despite her British passport and Indian-born mother, Mirza was subjected to additional screening by Indian immigration officers before she could enter the country, because her last name is Pakistani. A business visa that normally would have been issued in a day took six months.
“They’re worried about terrorism,” says Mirza. “When I told them I was a comedian, they asked me what that meant. They didn’t believe I was British, and they didn’t believe I was going there to make people laugh.”
Despite the difficulties, audiences found her risqué material side-splitting.
“The crowd kept asking me to go further, go further,” Mirza says. “They wanted the most sordid, out-there material because they can’t get that in life over there.”
Before performing in Pakistan, she was advised to avoid referencing drugs, politics, religion or sex, but she didn’t.
“The audience loved it because they’re laughing at things they’re conditioned not to laugh at,” Mirza says.
Raised in a strict Muslim family in Birmingham, a rough British city, Mirza now lives in London. After teaching science, she became a comedian, bucking her family’s expectations, and perhaps reducing her popularity among Muslim men.
“Obviously Muslim men, they don’t really want to marry me, because I speak,” Mirza says in a video clip online.
As with many comics, relatives are a source of her material – especially her mother’s obsession with Mirza’s marriage prospects.
“She lives in this community where Pakistani women go around pimping their daughters to any man that’s available,” says Mirza. “I think she feels I have to be married before she dies; otherwise she won’t feel she’s achieved anything. The problem is I’m not bothered. I love my life and I’m very happy and I’m not obsessed with it.”