“We have to be funnier than these funny politicians”

How stand-up comedy conquered politics

Priyanka Mehta Wednesday 18th September 2019 12:16 EDT

Stand-up comedians are running for office whereas some politicians today are a laughing stock, especially on social media platforms. This role reversal is perhaps most prominent through the election of Volodymyr Zelensky, the stand-up comedian who became Ukraine's President and in contrast the latest Jacob Rees Smug memes that dominated Brexit debate earlier this month.

As the west stands divided around immigration, identity, and ideology, some stand-up comedians have effectively delivered the “joke is on you” punchline. Shazia Mirza is one such award-winning stand-up comedian who will now participate at Young Muslim Voices. This a social start-up which works with diverse casts in performing monologues written by young Muslims about their real-life experiences.

“I am just going to do stand-up comedy that I have written. It will catalog my everyday experiences but essentially it will be a reflection of the current political and social affairs in the world.

“There is so much going on already and it is so funny but we have to be funnier than the ridiculousness paraded by some of these politicians. Trump is the leader of that ridiculousness and I like watching him because he is highly entertaining even when he is not a comedian. So, as a comedian, I have to be funnier than him and that itself is a very challenging task," said Shazia.

Today the hallmarks of comedy are not the attributes traditionally demanded of the briefcase politicians. They are often required to demonstrate competency, accountability to their people and infallibility. Now, humor and cynicism have become an essential ingredient to build political narratives and agenda-driven policies. And unsurprisingly, quite a few politicians have directed such humor towards the migrant community. However, this far-right rhetoric has been crucially challenged by an increasing presence of Asian stand-up comedians.

Some of these famous names include Hasan Minhaj, an American comedian, and a political commentator whose Netflix series the Patriot Act has garnered quite a viewership across the world and is described as the “best kind of infotainment” by the Forbes Magazine. Other headlining names include Romesh Ranganathan who was nominated for Best Newcomer at the 2013 Edinburgh Comedy Awards, Sindhu Vee, Anuvab Pal, among others.

Shazia believes that a decade ago, there were rarely many Asian individuals pursuing their careers around their passion in the field of performing arts and culture. Today, although faces like those of Aditi Mittal, one of the first women to do stand-up comedy in India, have surfaced in comedy, not many people still pay and watch it. Today, aside from being commissioned for their work, some stand-up comedians even find themselves entangled in the debate between the right to free speech and defamation suits. But for artists like Shazia, being pigeonholed in a certain category and being defined by labels is perhaps the biggest issue that needs to be addressed. She said,

“I have had lots of labels- Muslim, female, Asian comedian from Birmingham. I don't need all of this. Just call me a comedian like all my male counterparts are referred to as.”

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