When she last performed in San Francisco, Shazia Mirza, who lives in London, told screamingly funny (if eyebrow-raising) jokes about shotgun weddings and terrorism. It's all in a day's work for the Muslim comic, who's of Pakistani descent.
"I don't think I push the politically correct envelope at all," Mirza tells Hoodline. "I try to be as honest as possible and sometimes people may take that to be politically incorrect but I don't intend to be."
Mirza is one of more than 50 South Asian comedians who'll perform at Desi Comedy Fest, which begins tomorrow and runs through August 21st. The featured comedians will perform throughout Northern California, including at three San Francisco venues: Marines Memorial Theater, Cobb's Comedy Club and Doc's Lab.
Desi Comedy Fest's producers, Samson Koletkar and Abhay Nadkarni, say comedy is an important part of South Asian culture.
"Over the years comedians have carved out a niche for themselves in the Bollywood movie scene," they said in a joint email. "But the style of comedy is what is different. Stand-up comedy as an art form is new to India, and like India's population, it's exploding out of control. So many have taken a liking to it and so many are making a living doing it."
"Earlier, there were poets and satirists and cartoonists that lambasted the cultural and political quirks of the country. Now, stand-up is the new, cool, in-your-face art-form of critique and comedy."
The featured comedians span a diverse range of countries and cultures: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Korea, the UK, the U.S., and Canada. They represent Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and Jewish faiths (along with a few agnostics and atheists), and some performers are also LGBT.
The region's burgeoning comedy scene draws its strength from smashing down long-standing barriers, Koletkar and Nadkarni say. "South Asian voices have been repressed for so long that they are coming out louder and clearer than ever before. Our comedians are fearless yet thoughtful, critical yet funny, and they hold nothing back."
Despite her controversial material, "I don't give offense much thought," Mirza says. "I think about what I want to say. I never think about the audience or about what they're going to think—you can never do a true piece of work if you think that way."
She counts Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, all comedians who have flirted with boundaries, among her influences. "Audiences who've seen my latest show often say things like 'I didn't see it that way' or 'Thanks for making me see things differently, thank you for giving me a different point of view.'"
While many of the comics will focus on lighter topics, attendees can expect to see some comic material focused on the news, particularly given Donald Trump's recent comments on allowing Muslim immigrants into the country.
"People have always laughed at themselves, throughout history. That's how people get through dark times," Mirza points out. "Sometimes its the only way to survive something terrible, like Trump. You can only laugh."
She concluded our chat with a plea to American voters: "Please vote for Hillary. No matter how much you hate her. The alternative is so much worse. If Trump gets in this may be the last time you read an interview like this from me."
For more info on Desi Fest, and to purchase tickets, visit their website.
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