What do comedians do about the pandemic?
Shazia Mirza wrote her show two years ago. As she says, “It was relevant, funny, timely and I knew every single bit of it. Then one day in March, the world ended.”
But now, after numerous rewrites, numerous postponements, she is delighted to be back on the stage again (Brighton’s Komedia, November 16).
“This is the tour that never happened, never happened, never happened and now suddenly it is happening but I’ve had to rewrite it about 11 times which was OK. I had nothing else to do! But really everything just shut down. At the time we didn’t know what was happening and we thought things were going to open again quite soon. I kept learning the show but after a couple of months I realised that we were not going to be opening again any time soon.
“In the beginning we just thought that things would get back to normal pretty soon, but the longer time went on, the more irrelevant my show became. We were in a pandemic and people were dying. They weren’t going to care about me talking about Love Island and reality TV! So then I just gave up and didn’t really do anything. It was very hard to be motivated.”
But the lockdown had its benefits: “I have to say that touring is so hard. It is very tiring. You’re staying in a lot of hotels by yourself, you’re travelling by yourself, you’re writing by yourself, and I actually really enjoyed the lockdown at first, just being able to stay up until four o’clock in the morning watching Al Pacino films, those old ones that I just love, just something I wouldn’t normally be able to do in my real life. And what was really good was that it was very hot, that summer of 2020, that May, June, July. I just went out and walked around the park and I loved it.
“And then I panicked because things started to look like they were going to go back to normal and I didn’t have a show to start learning. So I started doing some writing and then we went into another lockdown and my show became irrelevant again. I remember the November, December, January being really, really bleak. That was really hard. And at that point I didn’t even know if I could do this. I started to have my doubts – whether I could actually do it or whether I even wanted to do it, whether I would be able to get back at all. Every single day of my life since I started stand-up, I had been doing stand-up every night, whether writing stand-up or travelling to stand-up gigs or actually doing stand-up gigs but it was every night for 13 or 14 years and then all of a sudden, nothing. I did some gigs on Zoom but that’s not the same. The audience was not live. With Zoom you literally can read your jokes off a piece of paper if you wanted to.
“But I had to come back. The programme and the poster and all the shows that have been booked and were postponed were coming back and I had to stand on that stage. I did the Latitude Festival and it was about 2,000 people and at one point I forgot what I was talking about. I was in the middle of a joke and I couldn’t remember the punchline. I was talking really fast and I stopped and I stared at the audience and I said ‘I’m really sorry I’ve forgotten it’ and it came to me and we all laughed. It was funny. And then I did a week of shows at the Soho Theatre. It was the first run I had done for nearly two years. I did seven nights in Soho and I got nominated for a British Comedy Award!”
As for the pandemic in the show itself, well, as Shazia says, you can’t ignore it: “But you don’t have to go on about it. What I have found is that people have come out for a laugh and they don’t want to dwell on it. In a way I think people are just wishing that it had never happened, that life would go back to normal and that’s why they want to go out and do things like they used to.
“They just want to have a laugh so I certainly don’t bang on about the pandemic at all.”
But Shazia does believe she has been changed by it: “I think we have all been changed. I don’t think things can go back to how things were before. The world is not what it was before and I think what matters to people has changed as well.”