Shazia Mirza is THE hot ticket in comedy – so what’s all the fuss about? And why do men find her so intimidating?

Katherine MacAlister finds out.

As expected from someone as busy as Shazia, who’s had to cancel the interview several times already because of work commitments, she manages to conduct the entire chat while checking in at Gatwick Airport. But that’s life these days. You have to catch her while you can. And when you’ve worked as hard as Shazia to get where you are, when the time comes you make the most of it.

“And public transport and airports are so brilliant for people watching,” the 34-year-old tells me. “I get loads of my material from just listening to other people’s conversations. What people will talk about in public is unbelievable.” Which is a remarkable statement for a girl who’s happiest up on stage laying her own life bare to her thousands of fans.

Shazia’s material is well known, her main gift being her ability to laugh at herself, but her subject matter, as a female Asian stand-up, is fascinating. Arranged marriages, a lack of suitable men, her parents, and her experience meeting the Queen will all be out there. So will her parents be in the audience? “God no,” Shazia says in horror. “I wouldn’t be able to speak if my parents were in the front row. It would be so off-putting.

“But what was deeply ironic was that while I was in Edinburgh for a month and joking about them on stage every night, they were at Mecca!” and she giggles. “So there my mother is praying for me to get married and find a nice husband and I’m on stage talking about them!”

But then comedy is Shazia’s outlet against her “restrictive” upbringing. And her parents, originally from Pakistan, know what she does for a living. “Oh people tell them. They did want me to be a doctor - that in their eyes is success. So until I get my own TV show ‘like that McIntyre man’ as my dad puts it, I’m not. And of course I’m not married which is the ultimate level of success to them.

“Mind you I wish my parents had forced someone to marry me. It would save me having to go out there and find someone for myself. And lots of my friends have had arranged marriages which worked out fine. You only read about the bad ones,” Shazia says.

Because while her career is booming, Shazia’s love-life is suffering, and her act seems to put off everyone she dates. “My dates either turn up and say ‘Oh it’s you’, or they phone afterwards to say they don’t want to go out with someone who makes people laugh for a living, and that it’s not suitable. Or you get the fans who email me saying “it would be a great laugh married to you’, which I delete immediately of course. I got a lot of offers when I was a teacher, though, so I know it’s my profession that puts men off.”

Not that Shazia seems to have time for a relationship at the moment, judging by her schedule. “Multiple Choice will be the biggest tour I have ever done,” Shazia agrees. “I’ve been writing it for a year and practised it at Edinburgh Fringe where it did really well.

“But then I’ve been at it for a long, long time and I’m just starting to appear on TV and get my break because I have persevered. And as long as you talk about personal experiences people can always relate to that. So although there aren’t any other female Asian comedians in the country, that’s not what I talk about in my show. My stories are more general and at the end of the day it’s just comedy. Besides, religious fanatics tend not to come to stand-up comedy.”

So did the comedian bug hit early? “I always knew I wanted to be on stage, but not that I wanted to be a comedian. I didn’t realise that women could be. In our house comedy was considered a white man’s job for people like Les Dawson and Frankie Howerd, not an Asian woman,” she says.

Comedy gave Shazia the chance to have her own voice. “All the power went to my three brothers. For me it was ‘you can’t socialise, or wear that, or say that, because girls don’t’. There were so many restrictions, so I think the comedy is a rebellion against that. It’s my way of regaining my power because up on stage I’m in control.

“But of course the kick is still people laughing. I need to hear it and for people to be laughing all the time, unless they are so old they don’t laugh anymore and are conserving their energy for other things.”

And with that Shazia’s off through the departure gate, to take her brand of defiant comedy to a whole new audience.

* Shazia Mirza’s Multiple Choice opens tonight at the North Wall Arts Centre – 01865 319450 or