I WORKED on a magazine focussing on Black Minority Ethnic arts and culture in Manchester for a time and one section was devoted to high profile BME figures talking about the decisions and choices they made on the path to success. Stand up comic Shazia Mirza was the first person I interviewed.
THERE’S something about holding the attention of a bunch of unruly kids in school which prepares you for a career entertaining drunken adults in nightclubs: French and Saunders, Dave Spikey from Phoenix Nights, even Tom O’Connor served their time at the chalk face before moving into stand-up.
But it’s unlikely any of them put up with anything like Shazia Mirza dealt with when she taught at a tough inner city boys school in the East End of London.
“The kids didn’t want to learn,” remembers Mirza as she wanders around the lobby of an arts centre in Oldham where she has just done a gig in an ultimately futile attempt to track down some cranberry juice (“Cranberry? Juice?” asks the manager, incredulously). “I used to have to lock the doors to keep them in. They used to escape from my lesson though a window. I mean, they weren’t interested in physics and chemistry; they wanted to be football players. It was a really poor area.”
“When I’m onstage, you get some bad heckles, but nobody would ever say things like, ‘have you got a boyfriend?’ Nobody’s ever said, ‘You’re shit, you don’t deserve to be paid’. I suppose once you’ve been a teacher, you’ve heard all that. The only time the kids listened to me was when I said something funny – actually, looking back on it, I used to go into school every morning and perform for them – so when I started stand-up, it wasn’t that different.”
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