They say laughter is the best medicine. Shazia Mirza is using it as a weapon against ISIS.

The World
Shazia Mirza

Shazia Mirza/Courtesy

In 2001, just some weeks after 9/11, she made a name for herself by opening her stand-up shows with the line “My name’s Shazia Mirza — at least that’s what it says on my pilot’s licence.”

In 2007 she released a documentary on BBC Three titled “F--- Off, I’m a Hairy Woman." Her new special, “The Kardashians Made Me Do It,” is a commentary on ISIS and jihadi brides, and it's making headlines

“First, it’s about political correctness, people being offended," Mirza says. "Then I go on to ISIS and jihadi brides, but it’s all linked.”

She's using comedy to show that ISIS doesn't represent all Muslims.

“I do talk about the repression and the repressive culture [of Islam] and how, you know, when teenagers rebel, they do crazy things," she says. "And I talk about, in particular, women going over to join ISIS and why they’re going. And I say it has nothing to do with religion, and I say it has nothing to do with politics.”  

Mirza is Muslim. She's a Brit of Pakistani descent and an award-winning comedian. She says the show is the only political one she’s ever done. Faith and politics are not something she likes to use as a source of material. 

“In the past I have talked about things like Brazlilian waxing, hair removal, traveling, shopping dating. All the ordinary normal things that most other comedians talk about. I never did anything remotely like this before,” says Mirza.

In preparation for this show, Mirza says she did a lot of research.

"I spoke to hundreds of Muslim women, all my friends, a close friend of mine who is an Islamic scholar. I read hundreds of articles, and watched a lot of real, live footage of ISIS," she says. "I used those responses and feelings in my show."

Her show was inspired by three high school girls from Bethnal Green Academy in London who made international headlines last year when they left home to join ISIS. The title was taken from the testimony of the sister of one of the girls during a hearing before Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee.

Sahima Begum described her younger sister Shamima as "normal," adding that she watched "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and showed no signs of being radicalized.

“I just thought that was hilarious," says Mirza. "That’s the answer they gave to our government. ... I mean, I just thought, 'God, this is so funny,' but it’s also, you know, they were normal ... I mean I watch the Kardashians. It’s a normal thing I would do.”

Originally, she had a more daring name for the show.

“I wanted to call it ‘The Road to al-Baghdadi’ because the leader of ISIS is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," she says. "But [the theater managers] wouldn’t let me. ... They were worried that people would get offended and something terrible would happen."

Mirza says she fought back hard on a title change, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

“As a comedian I don’t believe in censorship," says Mirza. “I believe in freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of speech.”

For her, the show is personal. She discusses in it her upbringing, which she says was similar to the Bethnal Green girls'. Of all the shows she’s done, Mirza says she’s especially proud of this one.

“I feel like this is the show that I was always meant to do. I just feel that everything I’ve done in my career has been leading up to this. I just feel I’m saying exactly what I think, exactly what I believe,” says Mirza. “It’s the funniest show, the darkest subject, but the funniest show I’ve ever done.”

Mirza’s show is currently touring in the UK and is expected to tour in the US soon.