Shazia's week

Dying in public is bad - but at least it's better than being shot for being a Brazilian

I’d like to talk to you about failure. More specifically, I’d like to tell you about one high-profile failure I’ve suffered this week. I’m no stranger to failure – in fact, we’re quite good friends. It all started in the egg-and-spoon race at infant school; I was beaten by an Indian girl and my mother hasn’t spoken to me since.

I was asked to perform at a corporate event for the distinguished members of our community who are respected and admired by the public - when they aren't shooting innocent Brazilians on the Underground.

I was quite excited about going to perform for them: I had heard in advance that they had a really good sense of humour. Their behaviour in public may be incredibly PC, but behind closed doors they repeat my jokes to each other, as if they were me telling them.

I was meant to do a 15-minute set, but I only managed to reach ten minutes. The situation was so excruciatingly painful that if I hadn't left the stage, someone would have had to come along with a shovel and lift me off it.

It all seemed to be going well to begin with. Everyone was laughing. Then, after about five minutes, they looked at each other all of a sudden and stopped. It was as if they'd all agreed, "We can't allow people to see us laughing at bombs, burqas and anal sex - it's not right and it's certainly not politically correct." So the laughter stopped and I started a slow death on stage. Men on the front tables began burying their heads in their hands, there were cries of sympathy, and women took hold of their husbands' arms as if to reassure them the agony would soon be over.

I felt nothing but pain, humiliation and shame. The reason they call it "dying" is that people smile sympathetically and come to offer their commiserations after the show. It was like standing naked at the top of the Eiffel Tower and having the whole world point and laugh at you.

To top it all, I had to get on the Tube home. As I boarded the train, a man in a tuxedo got on and sat down opposite me. He stared. I realised he had been at the dinner that I'd just died at. As he got off, he looked me in the eye and said, "I wish you luck in your life."

I was happy it was just a comment, and that he didn't try to shoot me.

It’s half-term, and all the Tubes, streets and cinemas are full of kids and their fathers – single fathers who have to entertain their kids for the week. Some of them just can’t seem to cope. While the mothers, who do the real work the rest of the year, take a few days off, the fathers are struggling for things to do.

When I popped into my local cinema yesterday to pick up some tickets, I noticed a man in his fifties looking at me as I waited in the queue. I turned to look at him, and he smiled. I smiled back, thinking maybe it was someone important.

"Have we met before?" he said. "No," I replied, "I don't think so." Then his eyes slowly travelled down my face and settled on my chest. I began to feel very uncomfortable. I mean, it was 2pm and I was wearing my fleece jogging bottoms.

He asked what I was going to watch. “Nothing today,” I replied. Then he said: “Would you like to come and watch a film with me and my son?”

At which point, a scrawny-looking child with Nike trainers and too much sugar in his blood came screaming round the corner, shouting: "Dad, are you trying to have sex with women again?"

I died - not for the first time this week. "Kids, hey. Who'd have 'em?" giggled the man nervously.

I smiled sympathetically and politely declined both the father's offer and his son's. As I turned to leave, the little boy removed a toy gun from his coat pocket and pointed it at me.

"I'm not a Brazilian, dear," I said, and walked out.

Shazia Mirza

Shazia Mirza is an award-winning stand up comedian. In 2003 she was named by The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. Since 2006 she has written a fortnightly column for the New Statesman, for which she won Columnist of the Year at the PPA Awards.

This article first appeared in the 29 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan