Shazia's week

Now I'm allowed to be offensive, I realise I've got nothing deliberately offensive to say

I’m in New York to do some appearances at the Zipper Theatre as part of an all-female show called Offensive Women.

It is being produced by The Vagina Monologues writer, Eve Ensler. When I first heard the title even I felt terrified. Were they going to be a group of butch women with metal bars through their noses and tattoos on their skulls? The day before I arrived, they emailed me a flyer: it had a picture of three women wearing green string vests, carrying huge guns and with cigars hanging from their mouths. The strapline said: “Talk is dangerous. Uncensored fearless comedy.”

What a relief. This is the first place I've been to this month where no one has told me that sex is evil and if I joke about it I'm going to have my hands and feet tied by chains before I'm thrown into the fires of hell.

Now that I'm allowed to be offensive, I've realised that I've got nothing deliberately offensive to say. When I went to India to perform recently, I wasn't even allowed to say the word "vagina" onstage. But I was allowed to say that I liked shoplifting. I didn't mention it was shoplifting sex toys in Ann Summers.

I received a letter from the Offensive Women team saying: "We want all the women in this show to be 'balls out'. Dead children, rape, murder, holocaust and war are all ideal topics for this comedy show." Sounds awful, but it's actually hilarious, with old women of 80 and upwards rolling in the aisles. One 96-year-old woman said to a comedian at the end: "That's the best torture joke I've heard - ever!"

There's something liberating about being offensive, especially as there are always some people who are clamouring to be offended on other people's behalf. I should know, there's often some twit queuing up to have me silenced. One middle-class critic castigated me on behalf of the poor because I made a joke about Primark. Just as well he didn't hear my joke about the Big Issue seller outside my local branch of Lidl.

So it's really sad that, on the same night as my show in New York's trendy SoHo, there was another show to raise money and awareness for the plight of Zarganar, Burma's most famous comedian. He has just had his 45-year prison sentence increased by 14 years after being found guilty of four more charges - disrespecting the government, illegal assembly, defaming religion and violating the Video Act.

Thank God I don't live in Burma. I'd be dead by now, or facing a quadruple-figure prison sentence.

Christmas is coming and the supermarkets and high-street chains are after our pennies, fighting to push apparently amazing credit-crunch-busting offers our way. The reality, as we all know, is that shops often inflate a price and then reduce it, making us believe it’s a bargain. It makes me wonder if there is some bijou village, nestling in the Cotswolds, where the residents are so affluent they don’t notice that their local Waitrose is charging them £75 for an avocado and £16 for a tin of baked beans.

I'm going to be investigating my own ways of having a bargain Christmas. First, I can get out of buying my friends presents by saying that, as a Muslim, I don't celebrate the season. I'm then going to dye my facial hair and offer myself as a cut-price Santa Claus in department stores. Finally, I'm going to make Christmas paper chains by shredding every scaremongering newspaper article about global financial gloom.

It looks like Woolworths might be gone by the time I write my next column, so I feel I should fess up now. Dear Woolies, it wasn’t until I was 11 years old that my mum pointed out that pick’n’mix sweets weren’t free samples. I’m sorry if my years of accidental thievery contributed to your current financial woes, and will quite happily buy you a kilo of pink sugar shrimps if it helps.

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 08 December 2008 issue of the New Statesman, After the Terror