Shazia Mirza. Photo by Idil Sukan

Last time I interviewed Shazia Mirza she was at an airport about to fly off on a global tour. This time around things are very different.

Having not gigged for a year except on Zoom, her enthusiasm for comedy has, if anything, only increased, and she is raring to go, to get back on stage and do what she does best – making us laugh.

“no one was complaining to start with – my hair and nails grew back”

Which might sound obvious except that Shazia is well known for her particular bent, that of being a young, Asian, Muslim woman, bucking the trend by becoming a stand-up comic rather than marrying well and making her parents happy.

Shazia Mirza. Photo by Idil Sukan

But lockdown has changed her perspective: “I just want to have some fun. People don’t want to hear my opinions or point of view, they just want to have a laugh, and that’s what my new show Coconut is all about.

Shazia has found herself in some hilarious situations recently – performing a live zoom gig to San Francisco from her sitting room AT 4AM OUR TIME

“So yes it will be weird for all of us to be back at a live gig because we are all out of practice, but I hope that’s a journey the audience and I can enjoy together,” she says.

Considering that a year and a half ago Shazia was in China performing eight gigs as part of her South Asia tour, appeared on The Island with Bear Grylls (from where the name of her new tour Coconut came from, it being their main source of food), as well as launching her acting career, and you’ll see how much her life has changed. So how has the pandemic affected Shazia’s comedy?

“I had written a new show which was all ready to go on tour last March, and then a week before, the first lockdown happened.

“I had to rethink the whole thing because lots of the material became pretty immediately obsolete or outdated – why should anyone be interested when we had bigger and more important things to worry about?” she asks. “So I started writing new material that was more relevant and Coconut is a mix of the two.”

“One person said they hadn’t laughed for nine months and was so relieved!”

It meant that instead of appearing live on stage, Shazia has found herself in some hilarious situations – performing a live gig on Zoom to San Francisco at 4am our time: “I couldn’t see or hear the audience and I was dressed in a sparkly jacket performing comedy from my sitting room,” she remembers.

“It was insane but people were writing comments as I went along, and seemed to be enjoying themselves. One person said they hadn’t laughed for nine months and were so relieved.”

Was it hard too come up with new material from such a inert place? “You mean in my pyjamas? ” she laughs. “I didn’t get out of my joggers or PJs for a year, on the bottom half anyway.

“No one in their right mind would be a comedian and put themselves through that if they didn’t have to, if they didn’t love it, if they didn’t feel the need…”

“I’d forgotten how long it takes to brush my hair, teeth and choose something to wear. I was half an hour late for a meeting this week. It was so stressful,” Shazia Mirza laughs “but then we’re all in the same boat.”

As for returning to comedy, she says: “You don’t have the stress of all the travel, driving up and down the motorway, and the anonymous hotel rooms, so no one was complaining to start with – my hair and nails grew back…. And then you realise you miss the sound of people laughing. It’s what comedians live off. We wouldn’t do this otherwise. No one in their right mind would be a comedian and put themselves through that if they didn’t have to, if they didn’t love it, if they didn’t feel the need.

Shazia Mirza. Photo by Idil Sukan

“And yes you begin to doubt yourself – Can I still do this? What will I talk about? Will anyone remember me? Will I remember what to say? And then you realise you’ll be so pleased to be back on stage that you don’t care about all that, and that we are all in it together.

“My mother keeps ringing me to say If only I’d married that nice doctor in Birmingham I’d be in a big semi-detached house by now”

“So the priority is having a laugh, not what I have to say. There has been such a lack of laughter through the pandemic, so it’s not about being being different but about being funny.

“And if one good thing has come out of Covid, it’s that we’ve all been it it together. It’s so relatable – the mundanity of it all – we’ve all been doing the same things. Sure we’ve had time to think a lot about what we could have done, should have done, would have done, but I’ve just been watching a lot of documentaries about serial killers – it makes me feel better watching Ted Bundy all day.”

As for Shazia’s love life, if you google her, “Is Shazia Mirza married yet” – is one of the searches that comes up, something she’s played on over the years. Does that bother her?

“My mother keeps ringing me to say she warned me years ago about being a comedian and now look what’s happened. If only I’d married that nice doctor in Birmingham I’d be in a big semi-detached house by now.

“But no. I don’t mind – everyone has been googling celebrities to see if they are suffering like we are!”

And as she begins preparing to go swimming, she adds: “I will just be happy to see people and make them laugh. We can be rusty together.”

Shazia Mirza’s Coconut comes to The Mill in Banbury on Friday¬†28¬†May with strict bubble seating. https://www.themillartscentre.co.uk/shows/shazia-mirza-coconut/

Katherine MacAlister