KARACHI: About a week ago, Shazia Mirza, the British-Asian comedian – and one of the slew of artists whose career rests almost entirely on the perception of Muslims post-9/11 – performed in Karachi at a coffee shop with intellectual aspirations.
Playing to a full house largely starved of humour, since all they do is hang about said café trying to figure out ways in which to be perceived as subversive, were good-natured and keen to laugh. And so Ms Mirza’s gags, even the old recycled ones, even the slightly desperate ones, even the ones in which she lazily aimed for the broadest comedy, were rewarded with great waves of laughter and intermittent applause.
It came then as some surprise to read Mirza’s resoundingly inaccurate account of her trip in a Guardian column that followed a few days later. “Don’t mention the word ‘gay’, Mirza alleges she was told by the organiser, which is particularly ironic considering the same organiser was quoted in the Hindustan Times not a month ago extraordinarily claiming that this particular venue was the only place in Pakistan where ‘’queer people felt safe’’.
That unfortunate tangent aside, here’s the reason for the discrepancy: Mirza’s lying.
She writes of a society in the thrall of complete repression – hypocritical and censored – which is certainly not untrue, just untrue of her own experience here. I am not one to get miffed by portrayals of Pakistan; my problem was more with her insufferably self-congratulatory tone. Mirza’s manner is tongue-in-cheek but clearly her observations of her visit to Pakistan are not intended to be laughed off.
For someone of Mirza’s obvious intelligence and alleged candour, her writing is a sad and effortless reaffirmation of long-held one-size-fits-all stereotypes. Other than Mirza’s anxious pandering to the British public – please love me, I’m one of you, not one of them – the most offensive moment of her writing for me was her staggeringly arrogant assessment of her own skills. Speaking of the reaction to her performance at T2F, she concludes, ‘’They laughed like they had never laughed before.”
Actually, I watched a girl trip and fall down the stairs the other day and found that considerably more amusing.
Her finest moments involved gags about the British Royal Family or the British Asian community, subjects she has encountered often and hence appears to have some understanding of, ‘’I come from a posh part of Birmingham, it’s called Bangladesh’’ where her grasp of the subject shows. Besides, let’s face it, Prince Phillip is comic gold and you just can’t go wrong with him as material. The rest of it was mildly amusing, if infantile and repetitive, ‘’I’m looking forward to my wedding day because I can’t wait to meet my husband for the first time’’ – a joke that works better amongst Britons who may actually think this is true.
Her routine, like so many British Asians before her, rests almost entirely on the assumption that Muslims, women in particular, are ill-educated and sexually reticent and lack exposure to the world. Most importantly, they rely on the assumption that all Muslim women, be they the children of immigrants born in England or the society doyennes of Karachi, all women, regardless of the standard of their education, their careers, their separate aspirations, are one and the same. All of them except for, of course, the revolutionary Miss Mirza, who considers herself unique based on the ability to spew profanity in public.