Ayesha Hazarika’s Edinburgh diary: The most offensive thing about Boris’s burka joke? It wasn’t original

18 August 2018

9:00 AM

18 August 2018

9:00 AM

Taking my new stand-up show Girl on Girl to the Edinburgh festival this year and playing at the prestigious venue the Gilded Balloon, was hand on heart the most stressful thing I have ever done — and I lived through the Ed Stone. My nerves were off the scale. Will anyone come to see the show? Will it be a massive disaster? Is this a very public and expensive cry for help? Why don’t I just go on a yoga retreat? These are all the things which swirl round your head seconds before you go on stage. Stand-up is one of the hardest things you can do. It’s just you — there’s no one to hide behind and you live or die by your wit, words and performance. Doing Prime Minister’s Questions is probably the closest thing, but at least political leaders are guaranteed a packed house and people will definitely laugh at you at some point. One of my greatest fears is developing brain freeze and forgetting a chunk of my set, which happened to my former boss, Ed Miliband, in his final conference speech as party leader when he missed out the section about the deficit. I don’t want anyone to miss out on my deficit material, which of course I’ve cut considerably. Thankfully I remembered everything, people laughed at the right places, lots of people came (I even sold out on my final night) and my technician only fell asleep once. The whole thing has not been a disaster, so I’ll claim it as a success. Not bad considering my first preview three weeks earlier was so appalling that someone asked me if it was the first time I had tried stand-up. Hey, if I can cobble a passable comedy show together in three weeks, maybe there’s some hope for Brexit.

Speaking of Ed Miliband, he was also at Edinburgh with his hugely successful podcast Reasons to be Cheerful, which he hosts with Geoff Lloyd. It’s mad to think that just over three years ago, he was on course to be prime minister and I was going to be a senior Downing Street advisor. Now we’re both performing at a comedy festival. Life comes at you fast… After my first night, I was greeted at the stage door by my mates, agent, producer and PR team and I was loving being the centre of attention, until we all heard the unmistakable nasal tones of my former boss, who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Before I could say ‘bacon sandwich’, I was left holding everyone’s bags and coats as they jostled to have pictures taken with Ed. Is there no justice?

As well as stand-up galore, Edinburgh provides a feast of culture which I love to sample. Henry Naylor is one of the most thought-provoking playwrights of our times and always produces a hit at the festival. This year’s offering, Games, tells the story of how Jewish athletes were treated by the Nazis in the 1930s. The themes of surging anti-Semitism and right-wing populism make it highly pertinent to today’s frenzied political climate. It also provides a sobering history lesson in light of the row engulfing Jeremy Corbyn, who was present when a wreath was laid for terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. Some of his supporters should remind themselves of what Jewish people went through. And I say this respectfully as a Muslim who supports the Palestinian cause.

As a lefty Muslim female comic at the fringe, you can only imagine my reaction to Boris Johnson’s decision to do a ‘Trinny and Susannah’ on what Muslim women wear, for the lolz. A guy who looks like an exploded mop should be the last person dolling out style advice. And let’s be honest, he’s about as funny as cancer. We all know this is a desperate ‘Hey, I spoke to Steve Bannon and he said do a Trumpian racist stunt’, which of course worked — and then he made some tea. There’s a great truth in British politics: powerful white chaps only get the teas in when there’s a TV crew. But the most offensive part of the whole thing was that Boris wasn’t even original. Stand-up Carey Marx told me he used to do a routine with that line but dropped it as eventually only the racists were laughing. Hmmm.

Following my bohemian break to Edinburgh, where I could look as scruffy as I like, stay up drinking until the wee hours and wear my hangover as a badge of honour, it was quite a shock to the system to be back in the make-up chair for my regular gig as a pundit on CNN Talk discussing international politics. On Monday, I tweeted out a picture of me getting my hair done with rollers and the resounding response was that I looked like Coronation Street’s Hilda Ogden. Tough crowd.

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