Former political advisor stands up in Banbury

Ayesha Hazarika

Ayesha Hazarika

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For many comedians, tearing up the script for the show on the opening night would be hell for some people.

But not to former political adviser Ayesha Hazarika who’s touring show State of the Nation was turned around quickly ahead of its visit to Banbury next week.

On April 18, when she took to the stage of London’s Soho Theatre, it was a matter of hours after Theresa May announced a snap general election.

The Coatbridge-born comedian, political commentator and former special advisor to Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband found herself forced into full-on rewriting mode, a position she’s finding herself in on almost a daily basis.

“My show has a lot of topical stuff and a general election is good for that as there’s always something new happening every day.

“Material I did last week that is no longer relevant will need to be replaced with new material. But that’s a good discipline for a comic, and that’s also good for the audience as it shows that your work is fresh and they know that they’re coming to a political comedy show that’s really current.”

Ayesha is keen to point out that ‘State of the Nation’ won’t simply be about the nitty gritty of the campaign’s crazier moments or opinion poll updates: for one thing, the show rolls on past election day and into July and August.

She added: “I try to make a wider point about why British politics has found itself in this massive mess, and talk about my own journey in the Labour Party and what I experienced.

"One of the reasons that we’re in this slightly mad place is that politics is quite out of touch with where people are in the country. When I was a special advisor, there weren’t many people like me. There weren’t many women, or people who weren’t from London or from an ethnic or working class background. It was quite a mono-culture.”

Given that it’s a comedy show, there will be plenty of jokes and anecdotes from her time within the corridors of power, while Ayesha will be taking the temperature of her audience’s political mood with a Q&A section.

Ayesha said: “I’ll be having a discussion that will be partly focus group, partly therapy session. I’m keen to hear what people thought about my show and what people think about what’s happening in politics now. In the early shows in London the question that came up the most is why hasn’t Labour been able to have a female leader?”

Which might bring people round to wondering whether Ayesha harbours her own ambitions within the political sphere.

She said: “In one of my shows there was a Daily Mail reporter and they said ‘well, why don’t you stand?’ I tried to be an MP a while ago, but sadly, that ship may have sailed. I really enjoyed being an adviser to Ed and Harriet and there are a lot of support roles around MPs that are good. Now as a political commentator I’m lucky to have a say in politics and get to talk about what I think is important.”

Politics has always been important to Ayesha Hazarika and as a child her car-journey games involved naming members of the cabinet rather than playing I-spy.

Describing herself as “painfully shy” due to feeling very different within a predominantly white environment, she forced herself to “snap out of it and make myself a bit more popular. From an early age, I cottoned on to the fact that I was funny which was a good way to stop being bullied.”

Ayesha later joined a comedy course which was attended by Rhod Gilbert and Greg Davies:

She said: “They did really well and became millionaires while I went off to join the Labour Party and help it to a stunning electoral defeat,” she laughs.

The course itself, run by Logan Murray, wasn’t able to turn unfunny people into comedy legends, but gave aspiring comics the tools to survive in an often harsh industry.

Ayesha said: “It gave you a safe space to get on stage and perform. A lot of people can be funny in the pub or at work, but it’s very different from getting up on a stage. There was a lot of drama school-esque clowning around to break your ego down and make you feel uncomfortable which really helps you to prepare for how horrendous it can be on the open mic circuit.

"The message they give you is that you will have amazing gigs but you will also have terrible ones too, so they instil in you a strong sense of how to fail gloriously: that’s how you get better as a stand-up.”

Having been an insider of two very different worlds, is there anything that stand-ups and politicians have in common?

She said “I genuinely believe everybody can be funny; everyone has a funny story or has a quirk in them, but to do it properly you have to find an authentic voice. You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not and that’s how it can go wrong for some politicians.

"Both politicians and comedians have a desire to show off but also have a crippling insecurity, and a lot of them are thin-skinned.

"Politicians and comedians have things they want to get out into the wider world whether it’s a set of policies or a bunch of jokes. In politics, nothing comes closer to a stand-up club than Prime Minister’s Questions. There’s a lot of heckling and you have to go in there with chutzpah and swagger: if you go out on stage and show that you’re nervous, the audience will pick up on that.”

Ayesha lifts the lid on what life’s really like behind the scenes at Westminster with brutal honesty and humour and asks what’s next for British politics.

Since leaving front line politics she’s become a much sought after commentator writing for the FT, Guardian, Evening Standard, New Statesman and Grazia.

Ayesha returned to her routes with a show last year with her show Tales from the Pink Bus which was a sell out at the Edinburgh Fringe.

She has a final word for any floating entertainment-seekers in Banbury.

“You’ll enjoy it if you’re interested in politics but you don’t have to have a deep knowledge of it. I think it’s really accessible.

“People have said it’s a nice bit of light relief and therapy with everything that’s going on in politics. It’s essentially one woman and a mic, one exciting mystery prop, and a lot of hairspray.”

To find out further details about the gig on Saturday May 27 call the box office on 01295 27002 or alternatively visit www.themillartscentre.co.uk.