Eastern Eye (UK)

Stand-up pioneer to acting in big projects



BRITISH Asian stand-up comedy is thriving with multiple shows happening on a weekly basis, but it all started with pioneers like Jeff Mirza.

The legendary funny man laid the foundation for many fabulous talents, and today he balances making audiences laugh on the live circuit with a thriving acting career. His forthcomin­g films include romantic comedy What’s Love Got To Do With It? which sees him star alongside a strong ensemble cast that includes Lily James, Shazad Latif and Emma Thompson. The actor’s other films include action-comedy Polite Society, and science-fiction drama Birchhange­r Green.

Eastern Eye caught up with the great British comedy great to speak about his successful move to acting, new films, and how starring alongside Shabana Azmi got him a stamp of approval from a sceptical uncle.

What takes priority for you today, acting, or stand-up comedy?

They are both mutually symbiotic in a way, with one helping the other. I am doing less comedy than I used to. You have to remember that I used to do, like 40 shows a month, so have done a lot of stand-up and a lot of driving because of it. I know this and neighbouri­ng countries very well. Acting is easier in one respect but takes more time. I enjoy them both.

Your acting career is going great guns. How much are you enjoying creating these totally different characters?

Everyone has this psyche and residue of experience­s, so you just tap into them. Crazy uncle? I can do that! My dad was like this. Like I sang a qawwali in a movie once, so recalled the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. So, I use all these experience­s in the parts.

You’ve delivered a great performanc­e in soon to be released film What’s Love Got To Do With It? What was the experience of working on it?

I got a call and was asked to do a read through. When I got there, I thought this part is right up my street. I recognise this character. What added to the excitement was that the legends (producer-writer) Jemima Khan and (director) Shekhar Kapur were involved. I had loved his previous movies. Then I got the call after the audition, which is what every actor waits for. It was just such a great experience working in the film, with greats like Emma Thompson, who is super humble, despite being so super-talented.

How much have the positive reviews of the film meant for you and the team?

I’m particular­ly thrilled for Jemima, because this movie is her baby. She’s put so much into it. So, it’s wonderful seeing her get such good vibes, positive feedback, and great reviews. She has been determined to get the Asian community on board with this film. Traditiona­lly we have been vilified or have been portrayed as certain types of negative stereotype­s. This is not like that and is an uplifting movie. It’s a romantic comedy, and there’s no one saving anybody. (Laughs) Everyone is alive!

What was the experience of acting with powerhouse actress Shabana Azmi like, in What’s Love Got To Do With It?

I remember watching her movies on VHS back in the day. She is a big name and an icon. She is Shabana Azmi. One of my sceptical uncles always thought I was no more than a joker, wasting time on my comedy and acting. That same guy contacted me to say how proud he was, purely because I was working with Shabana Azmi. (He was also impressed that Jemima Khan was involved). Our community wants you to be a doctor, but then gives you a stamp of approval when working with an icon like Shabana-jee, who is absolutely brilliant.

My favourite moment in the movie is your scene with the wedding arranger. What was yours?

(Laughs) There was a little bit of improvisat­ion and masala added into that scene by the actors. That is because Jemima and Shekhar gave us space to do that, which is so lovely of them. That was probably my favourite moment as well. But this film is filled with great moments, including emotional scenes audiences have loved, and just some wonderful laugh out loud scenes. This film takes you on that rollercoas­ter ride.

What can we expect from the forthcomin­g film

Polite Society? That is a completely different genre of movie. That is like a Bruce Lee and Crouching Tiger kung fu type-movie, but with our (British Asian) people in it. It has a great storyline, with old style good versus evil.

I saw a video of you doing a stand-up gig in Iceland recently. What was happening there?

That was just an impromptu gig. I was actually there filming for an HBO detective series. It’s a nice part. I thought it would be interestin­g to do a gig there and learned some Icelandic. It’s good when you go to a foreign country, and make an audience feel that you’ve done something for them. Not an old routine, you would do in London.

What else do you have on the way?

‘There is no one saving anybody’

I’ve got a science fiction movie coming out later on in the year called Birchhange­r Green, which is a much more serious genre completely. I’ve done a Bollywood movie as well called Super Woman. Poonam Dhillon is in it. (Laughs) I’m playing Southall’s greatest sex therapist, who is quick to offer up a blue pill.

What’s the secret to great comedy? It’s all about timing.

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 ?? ?? What’s Love Got To Do With It? is in cinemas next Friday (24)
What’s Love Got To Do With It? is in cinemas next Friday (24)
 ?? ?? FUN-TASTIC: Jeff Mirza at the world premiere of What’s Love Got To Do With It?; (inset, above left) with Shazad Latif in the film; and (inset below) on set with co-star Emma Thompson
FUN-TASTIC: Jeff Mirza at the world premiere of What’s Love Got To Do With It?; (inset, above left) with Shazad Latif in the film; and (inset below) on set with co-star Emma Thompson

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