Monday, September 10, 2007

A review of Shazia Mirza’s comedy stints at NEDians’ Convention 2007

Humor in most parts is about putting very serious things in a most unserious manner. These are the things that you either have great respect for, have strong reservations about, or are normally uncomfortable discussing in public. Consequently, humor banks on poking fun at religion, important government matters, and sexual mores and attitudes.

Shazia Mirza, a UK based comedian of Pakistani ancestry, gave two performances of stand-up comedy at NEDians’ Convention 2007, in San Jose.

The War on Terror being the most serious stuff these days was understandably Mirza’s one domain of humor—she was original, brilliant, and very funny.
[For example,
My grandmother is on a wheelchair. She was stopped at an airport in the US. Looking at her wheelchair, they asked, “Did you make it yourself?”

Pakistani women normally walk five steps behind their husbands.
These men look better from behind.
But now Pakistani men are having their wives walk five steps ahead of them.
Because of the landmines.]

Pakistanis are definitely not at the forefront of sex-related-morality reevaluations. To state the obvious, Pakistanis are conservative in their attitudes towards sex. Comedians performing to Pakistani audiences are expected to pay attention to this little detail, and especially comedians who are from the Pakistani ethnic group. But Shazia Mirza did not display that intelligence. Her jokes on sex at the NEDians’ Convention were devoid of the subtlety and suavity this conservative community is used to in regards to sex-related jokes. Though this aspect of Shazia’s comedy least bothered this scribe, some in the audience did object to her content and the organizers promptly informed Shazia about the objections; she was asked to “tone it down.” The way Mirza acted after this confrontation made it obvious she had come without a B plan. She appeared confused on where to go from there.

One short-phrased thought on Shazia Mirza’s performance that stayed with this correspondent was: one man not laughing. For, in most part Shazia Mirza’s comedy on September 8 was grade-school humor: you pick one person from the group and make him/her the butt of the joke. Everybody laughs their hearts out, everybody but the person everybody is laughing on. Perhaps this kind of humor displayed in comedy clubs to an intoxicated audience that is hell-bent on having a great time, even at the expense of others, is OK but at the NED Alumni convention it was a different story. In NED culture where social status of a student was set by the time they had spent at the University—more senior being more worthy of respect—making fun of people on how they dressed or on their physical appearance did not go well with many in the audience.

The third aspect of Shazia Mirza’s comedy that was most problematic to this scribe was a hint of snobbery in her dealing with the audience. Maybe we were seeing her UK based understanding of her own ethnic group: people who have learned to amass wealth, but otherwise are not too educated. This hint of disdain was obvious in her opening note [that whereas she had been asked to tone down her content she believed she should be giving Pakistanis what she gives to her “White” audience--as if what she gives to her “White” audience is the premier class stuff, and toning down the act would be like giving a second class product to Pakistanis, who, whereas are second-class people still deserve premier stuff] or her questions meant to size up audience’s cultural refinement [for example, if the audience knew about ‘Vagina Monologues']. It might very well be that some of the Pakistanis are not too much into off-Broadway shows, or operas, or NY Times bestsellers, but they definitely don’t need a comedienne from Europe to tell them that.

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