Freedom

Shazia Mirza has made numerous appearances on TV and radio. Her latest stand-up show, Fun, is currently touring.

www.shaziamirza.org

Offend me and I'll marry you

I have never felt totally free. Even when I'm standing on stage doing a show with no knickers on. I always feel bound by a sense of loyalty, duty and respect.

I associate freedom with frankness and undue familiarity, and there's often a price to pay for the privilege.

I love Britain. I can stand on stage every night of the week and say what I want. Some people may laugh, some may not, some may be offended, some may not, but no one can stop me. I will not get arrested for saying John Prescott is the Downing Street Strangler and that my Auntie Fatima thinks the Queen killed Diana.

I read recently that a foremost cleric in Australia said "All uncovered women are meat" and if they get raped they asked for it. I couldn't wait to get my clothes off, and I haven't stopped stripping since.

Freedom of speech really does exist in this country, but can offensive speech really be free? The only thing that is completely free is the truth, and satire allows us to tell the truth in a funny way.

Recently after doing a show, an Asian man barged into my dressing room and said, "I don't like your show. You are shit. I want you to give up comedy." Just like that. No "Hello", no "How did you think that went Shazia?"

I mean don't get me wrong – a young man coming into my dressing room slagging me off without saying hello – a part of me was thinking "husband material". Arranged heckling, I'm all for it. But of all the ways to make your point, does he really think that's going to work? Does he think I'm going to ponder, "God, I've never looked at it that way before. I was having these gnawing doubts too but you've really nailed it for me! Thank you so much, where do I get my P45?"

I've known this guy maybe ten seconds, he doesn't even introduce himself. The first sentence out of his mouth is a criticism, the second sentence is a profanity the third is an order. This is freedom. He told me that instead of making jokes about "our people" I should be celebrating them, and making them look good. He accused me of being disloyal, I proclaimed my only loyalty was to the truth, but as I drove home that night I felt guilty, I had freedom of speech but not freedom of conscience.

Some people believe that some things are sacred and should never be mocked – religion, sex, the Archbishop of Canterbury. I disagree. I think all of these are necessary to be mocked, especially the Archbishop, you've got to laugh at the old man. Apparently gays are now not welcome in his church unless they "change their behaviour". Our spiritual and moral leaders get away with such shameful medieval prejudice these days. From what I hear anal sex is all the rage, and the Church has had a pioneering role in its development.

It astonishes me that people who satirize authoritarian, important, controversial topics are seen as a threat to society. Religion, sex, death, love – all these things can only be strong when we know everything bad about them, then we can protect them. But until then nothing is sacred. And laughing at the hypocrisy, selfishness, idiocy that these things bring will allow us to be free. We feel great relief when we know we can laugh at something, because most of the time we are thinking it anyway.

Everyone talks about freedom, the freedom to say what you want, the freedom to laugh at what you want, the freedom to be yourself. But I never feel any of this totally. I always worry that someone may be offended, and they will send me hate mail and stalk me for the rest of my life, till one day my next-door neighbour finds me hanging from a tree.

I used to do a routine about my mum's facial hair, which she bleaches on Tuesdays. The problem is, being an Asian woman, when she stands in a lift she looks like Father Christmas. I had people writing to me to tell me that was offensive. They were mainly people who wear toupees and wigs, have difficulty growing hair, and can only dream of being mistaken for Santa.

It's OK to be offended. But nobody should be exempt from laughter.

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