Talking Travel: Shazia Mirza
The comedian and writer talks to Angela Sara West about her rib-tickling travels and going back to basics for Channel 4’s Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls
Known for her deadpan delivery and pushing boundaries on stage, Shazia Mirza has delivered sharp one-liners all over the world.
Recent travels have taken her to Turkey, Los Angeles, Pakistan and Switzerland, while next up are Paris, Ireland and Sweden.
“I travel all the time – every day, really, either up the M1 or on a plane abroad,” says Mirza. “It’s a privilege to go to a different place every night and not know where I'm going. It always feels like an adventure.”
The Brummie funny girl has comical tales from the City of Angels. “In LA, they think I'm Mexican and people come up to me talking in Spanish. They get very confused when I speak with an English accent.”
The trailblazing entertainer’s favourite destinations include Norway and Denmark and, in the US, she’s a fan of San Francisco.
“I love performing in the city. It’s a great place to do stand-up. It's interesting to do comedy in the States at this time in the world. There's so much to say to the Americans, although they probably don't want to hear it from me. I still have to explain to them what Brexit is, and why we did it.”
Mirza recommends Mexico for culture and a warm welcome. “It also has great beaches, as does the south of France. I recently stayed at L’hôtel Hermitage Monte-carlo whilst filming a TV show – that was an experience. But I also love Saint-jean-capFerrat’s kitsch and dated two-star hotel, L'oursin. It’s a bit like Fawlty Towers!”
After the glitz and glamour of the Côte d'azur, being abandoned on a remote island in the Pacific by Bear Grylls last year proved no laughing matter for Mirza. “It was ten times worse than what you saw on TV. But I realised that you don't know how strong you are until being strong is the only option. It’s a test of mental strength, but there were times where you just had to stop thinking and get on with things.”
Driven by desperation, determined Mirza became the group’s warrior. She not only found water and navigated a jungle, but was the one bringing home food for the camp. Defying strong currents, Mirza’s strong swimming saw her excel at fishing.
No-one, it seems, was amused in such an unforgiving place. “On the island, there was no laughter – we didn't laugh once. It was strange. We were struggling all the time. Being alone with your thoughts at night for such long periods of time was hard, like being in solitary confinement.”
After a month of dehydration, starvation and being dashed against rocks (causing her to fall unconscious), Mirza was one of the final six stranded contestants who survived to the end. What did she learn about herself? “Once you've survived 'The Island', you can do anything in life,” she says.
The comedy queen’s travels and gruelling island experience have served as a source of inspiration for material for her sell-out shows. “Everything I see and hear could end up in a show, as that's where most of my material comes from. On Celebrity Island, we saw how the environment – earth, land and sea – is such a beautiful place being ruined by humans. The amount of plastic we found on those beaches was horrific. It’s very sad. I love the sea and swam for hours every day. It’s beautiful and calming.”
Catching many flights a year, Mirza is a fan of Emirates and Norwegian and offers a single travel tip: “Always listen to other people's conversations.”
When she has time off she heads home for some rare R&R. “Nowhere beats my mum's house in Birmingham,” she says. “I sleep in the same room as I did as a teenager and my mum makes me food all day. That is the best holiday. I love visiting my roots in Pakistan, too.”
Travelling has taught Mirza much about people, along with an understanding of other cultures. “Travelling’s given me so much in life. It’s helped me to become more tolerant. You learn things when travelling that you could never learn from a book.
“Getting on an aeroplane and being up in the sky above the clouds for a few hours, ending up on the other side of the world, is a miracle. I never take for granted what an exciting thing that is.”
She continues: “There’s nothing more exciting than waking up in a strange hotel in a different place, in a country you've never been to before. You look out of the window into the unknown. The mystery of life is a such a gift.”
There's nothing more exciting than waking up in a strange hotel in a different place, in a country you've never been to before"