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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Muslim comic sees the funny side
Shazia Mirza
Mirza was a science teacher before going into stand-up
Female Muslim comic Shazia Mirza, who believes her act is helping break down cultural barriers and overcome ignorance, has found her work in great demand in Britain, Pakistan and the US.

While she does not poke fun at her religion, Mirza does tell jokes about her culture and current events.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she is well aware that as an Asian Muslim woman in comedy she is quite a rarity.

She said she believes comedy makes people laugh and think at the same time.

"I always have men come up to me afterwards and ask me questions and say: 'Is it true that (Muslim) women have to walk steps behind their husband, is that true?' I say 'Yes, they look better from behind'."

'Curious'

During her first appearance since the attacks on the United States, she rather nervously introduced herself to the audience.

"I'm Shazia Mirza," she said. "At least that's what it says on my pilot's licence."

Mirza said her work was not just for laughs.

"The average white laddie bloke really has never met a Muslim woman in his life, so they're probably really curious about our religion and our culture and how women are treated," she said.

'Devout'

"So when I'm doing my comedy in comedy clubs, I'm allowing them to laugh when normally they wouldn't be allowed to laugh for fear of being condemned as racist or something."

Mirza performs wearing a head scarf and describes herself as a devout Muslim, but is keen to dispel any preconceptions that "all Muslim women are oppressed, all Asian women have arranged marriages and women are not funny".

Born and bred in Birmingham, she confessed she had always been known for her sense of humour.

'Insight'

And before turning to stand-up she had a brief stint at teaching science in schools - a career which she said helped sharpen her humour.

But her ambitions do not stop at performing her routine worldwide - she also wants to "conquer America".

"I wanted to act and be on stage, wanted to do Hollywood films, I never saw any Asian women in Hollywood. Why not? I would ask myself," she told BBC Birmingham Online.

"I feel that I'm making a difference/change just by standing on that stage. Voicing Asian women, voicing Muslim women and representing another section of society, giving an insight to people about how it really is."

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