Comedian Shazia Mirza: ‘Girls are running to ISIS for sex, not Islam’

The Muslim comic tells Bridget Galton about her new show, The Kardashians Made Me Do It, and how it’s already been censored by the Tricycle Theatre.

It was the flight of three Muslim schoolgirls from Bethnal Green to join ISIS that gave Shazia Mirza the subject of her latest show.

And when the Tricycle Theatre banned her from calling it ‘The Road to al Baghdadi’, she had additional material for a comedy act that has Jihadi brides, liberal leftism and censorship in its highly topical sights.

The Muswell Hill comedian says the re-titled The Kardashians Made Me Do It was inspired by a news item on CNN.

“I was in New York with an old schoolfriend and those girls came on TV. That was us, we are from the same Bangladeshi background with a similar upbringing – mine was probably stricter - and my friend said: “We would never have done that!”

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“Isis weren’t around then and we rebelled in other ways, but I just knew it had nothing to do with religion and I had to talk about it.”

Mirza was outraged when the Kilburn venue asked her to drop the ISIS leader’s name from the title.

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“They said ‘it will end up in the news cycle, Isis will see it and we could get into trouble’.

“I pointed out that they are in Syria and you are in Kilburn, but they said they didn’t want to attract the wrong sort of attention. I said ‘Abu Hamza and his followers aren’t going to turn up and address everyone’. It’s ridiculous! - now they’ll have the Kardashians after them which is much more serious.”

Mirza says gleefully that it’s turned out worse for the Tricyle because she talks about their decision in the show and is looking forward to “going on stage at the Tricycle to tell the audience you shouldn’t censor people”.

The alternative title was prompted by a Home Affairs Select Committee at which the girls’ families were summoned to explain why they had fled.

It emerged that one had packed make-up, new knickers and hair remover, while her sister said: “I can’t understand why she’s gone ,she used to watch the Kardashians”.

“Everyone says ‘It’s Islam but it’s got nothing to do with Islam – they weren’t in the Mosque five days a week they, were watching the Kardashians. That girl was thinking about her bikini line not the Prophet.”

Mirza discusses her own upbringing “the repressive nature of our culture and how we react to that as young girls” and sees the girls’ journey to Syria as an “ill-informed, naïve” view of ISIS fighters as “hot and Halal”.

“This is now new. Women have always been attracted to barbaric men throughout history. Girls who have had a sheltered repressive upbringing are particularly vulnerable to it.”

While Mirza is angry at their naivety because “they make the lives of normal peace-loving Muslims very difficult,” she would give them a second chance.

“They’ve gone for all the wrong reasons but they were 15, just children, we all did stupid things at that age.”

Emerging on the comedy scene just after 911 as one of few Muslim comedians, the 39-year-old felt a bewildering pressure of expectation.

While the liberal establishment showered her with awards “just for being brown,” fellow comics vilified her because she wasn’t good enough.

“I’d only been doing stand up for a year, I wanted to graft, to drive up and down the motorway and get good, I did that eventually but I had to work double hard to claw my way back.

“At the time there was a lot of pressure on me to be a standard bearer. I didn’t want to represent all of my people and my people definitely didn’t want me to represent them. When I couldn’t be what they wanted I was a disappointment.”

After years in which she avoided media appearances, and tried to peddle less culturally specific gags, she’s now come full circle.

“I’d get shouted down by white male comedians for talking about my life and I stopped doing it. I wanted to be like a mainstream comedian talking about his girlfriend and drinking, stuff that’s deemed universal because everyone can relate to it.”

But having decided to stay truthful to herself, she now finds herself both relevant and funny.

“This show feels natural and organic. It’s my most truthful show - not written just to get a laugh, please the liberal left or offend the right, but because I truly believe in it.

“I can’t deny who I am, I am a Muslim woman. There aren’t many of us in comedy. I thought no-one could relate to me talking about my life but I realised the truth is funny - they can still find my life funny.”

But there’s a danger her largely white middle-class liberal audience reject her risque jokes.

“They think it’s edgy to come and watch me, not to laugh but to learn some inside information to tell their friends in Islington,” she says.

She was recently stunned to be told by two audience members in Edinburgh that her show had too many gags.

“They were interested in what I was saying but then I did a gag and ruined it. They took everything I said literally and didn’t realise some of it was jokes. People are coming because they want to hear seriously what I have to say about this, but I am sorry, I am a comedian, and there will be jokes.”

The Kardashians Made Me Do It runs at the Tricycle September 24 until October 3.

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