Thursday, November 20, 2008

Groundbreaking Comedy

Shazia Mirza took her standup act to an unlikely place.

I’m in Pakistan, invited by the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in Lahore as part of its 25th festival of performing arts.

The first impression was positive.

On arriving, I was impressed to find such a well-organised and entertaining festival, the best I have ever performed at.

There was one predictable but oddly worded limitation.

Before my first show I was told: "You can talk about anything you like - drugs, religion, politics - but just don't expose the sex."

"Expose" the sex? Apparently Pakistanis are a horny bunch.

Pakistan is a sexually repressed country where everyone is at it, more than Russell Brand, and yet no one talks about it. Lahore is a city in which the red-light area is at the back of the mosque; less King's Cross, more the halal version of Amsterdam.

The show was a big event.

A British comedian had never performed in Pakistan before; some of these people didn't know what stand-up was, and there were teenage boys running into the venue shouting: "It's a woman comedian!" Outside, there were security men with AK-47s.

It went great, even when she took a chance.

They understood everything, and laughed consistently for an hour and a half. I took this as a sign that I could now do what I normally do, so I told my one and only anal sex joke. Eight people walked out. Yet word obviously got round, because the next three performances were sold out; I even put on an extra show.

She saw some contradictions, and got a taste of the local dark humor.

Pakistan is an anxious and dangerous country; it has a shortage of electricity and wheat......But there are still laser hair removal and liposuction clinics on every corner.......And just like the American dream, there is the Pakistani dream, too - or so everyone in Lahore has been telling me since I got here: "If you kill your wife, you get to be president."

The comments are worth reading. She apparently made quite an impression.

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