Ayesha Hazarika | Comedy Review
The MAC, Belfast • Friday 11 May ’18
As part of Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
By Peter Moor
You may recognise Ayesha Hazarika as a political commentator. In a point she made clear in her show, she’s a Glaswegian woman with “brown skin and white teeth, although it’s normally the other way round in Glasgow,” she quips. There’s not too many Glaswegian BAME women inside the male-dominated comedy circuit, and neither are there many within the once again, male-dominated, Westminster bubble.
She hasn’t always, however, been a political commentator, turning up on the likes of the Andrew Marr Show and Question Time. She started as political advisor for the Labour party, working with figures such as Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband, before going behind the scenes of the Remain movements – not exactly shining examples of winning campaigns, she openly admits.
The years of experience influencing such senior figures provides her with numerous insightful anecdotes, complete with perfect impressions, spanning Ed Miliband to Nicola Sturgeon to Leanne Wood. Her experiences advising Harriet Harman allows for heavy self-mockery of the pink bus that travelled the UK during the 2015 general election. A political stunt only championed in embarrassment by Labour’s infamous EdStone. Not forgetting, the surreal fandom of Ed Miliband resulting in the cringey Milifandom.
She recounted her endless pursuit to be “in the room” of the big political decisions, only to be overthrown by the young, facial hair filled males of Oxbridge, brimming with masculinity, all of whom were named either “Bob, Tom or Simon.” From acting the tea-lady in meetings, she eventually became a key advisor of Ed Miliband, trying to coach him on the weekly battle of Prime Minister’s Questions, not a natural arena for Ed, who struggled against the mediatised, macho David Cameron.
Her act didn’t, however, stay glued to her ill-fated time with Labour. She talked about growing up in Glasgow to parents of Indian origin, with stories of angry questioning of whether they were Rangers or Celtic fans. Or, the mixed marriages within her family, resulting in awkward Christmas dinner conversations surrounding Brexit and “those immigrants taking our jobs.”
Brexit was certainly an issue throughout her act – a quick bit of audience participation revealed a hardly surprising contingent of remain voters in the stalls – “a different story to Dorset,” Hazarika remarked. This created a rather friendly audience in this intimate venue of the MAC, quite sympathetic to her political cause. It would be interesting to see the audience’s reaction in a more Eurosceptic environment.
Despite Hazarika clearly channelling Westminster politics, there seemed to be an obvious absence of Northern Irish politics from her act. With such a ripe world of satire, a Belfast comedy audience surely expects a bit more than a few quick throwaway comments on Northern Ireland, along with a slightly questionable Michelle O’Neill impression.
It was not until the audience’s questions at the end of the act was Northern Irish politics clearly grappled with by an obviously politically discontented audience. Questions to Hazarika of “what do you think of the situation over here” were met with almost a blank impression, only for Hazarika to use the traditional politician speak to ask the audience what they think in return.
Despite this, Hazarika seemed to engage in a bit of self-mockery that Northern Ireland wasn’t overly important in the Westminster bubble, just like those living north of the Watford-gap were of no importance. When so many other touring comedians come across the Irish Sea, their acts are often brimming with content attuned to their local audience. Hazarika’s could seem somewhat scripted, without a nuance for a place filled with such political ridiculousness.
Yet Hazarika’s act is a unique one. Not only for her diverse place in her field but the experience which she brings to the comedy circuit. Hopping from a political party meeting room to a TV studio to the stage gives a varied set, perfect for any political buff.
Catch our latest TV programme: Presented and produced by Stacy Fitzpatrick, this episode features a conversational joint interview with Alan Heron from the Samaritans and musician Jonny McAllister (Warriors of the Dystotheque) – talking very openly and bravely about his experience of #MentalHealth.