My first Edinburgh: my agent told me I was terrible

Shazia Mirza remembers the lows of her first Fringe and how returning to the city feels far more refreshing

© Martin Twomey

The first time I went to Edinburgh, I was strongly advised/forced to go. My agent at the time said, "It’s time for you to go to Edinburgh. It’s time for you to hit the industry."

"But I’ve only got fifteen minutes of material" I said.

"Stretch it to an hour" she said.

"An hour? I’ve never done an hour in my life."

"Never mind, just make it last an hour"

I had three good jokes, had never done more than twenty minutes on stage, had only done a handful of gigs, didn’t know who I was, didn’t know what I thought, and didn’t even have anything to say. And funny? That didn’t even come into it. I was just worried about how I’d last sixty minutes on stage without being dragged off.

One critic said my show was like a torture chamber

I had no idea what I was doing! Why I was doing it? And what would happen to me afterwards if I didn’t do well?

It was a disaster. The three jokes I had went well. That lasted one minute, and the fifty-nine minutes remaining felt like three years in Guantanamo Bay.

My agent said, "You are doing so badly. Read your reviews and listen to what the critics are saying". One critic said that sitting in my show was like sitting in a torture chamber where I tortured my audience. I was criticised harshly and unfairly, and most of it was directed at me rather than my work (especially as I didn’t really have any work to be criticised).

It was a psychologically traumatising experience that affected my confidence and self-belief for years. I was given terrible advice and direction early on in my career and all so publicly. I didn’t want to be famous overnight for nothing, I wanted to be really good at what I did and be respected for my work – rather than be known for the colour of my skin or what God I believed in. I had to work ten times as hard as a white comic to gain the same amount of respect. I would have white comics come up to me all the time and say, "you are judged more harshly than anyone else", "you are judged unfairly" or "you are treated differently".

I don't care what people write and say about me anymore

It’s different now; I have an audience, I have done sell-out tours all over the world, people want to come and see me, I know who I am, what I think, and I don’t care at all what people write and say about me.

The thing I love most about Edinburgh is learning as much as I can and watching lots of different types of shows and people that I would never normally see. I also love perfecting my show to take it on tour after I leave the city. I see it all as work though. The festival is never a holiday or non-stop fun, there is always something to worry about, and I eat so much fried food that on 30 August I look like a fried kebab myself and can’t wait to get back to London and get on the treadmill.

Shazia Mirza: With Love From St Tropez is at the Gilded Balloon at 7:30pm until 28 August.

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