By Shazia Mirza
I am in the US. I arrived at the US immigration and waited patiently in line. I never ever have problems at Immigration because to the Americans I look Mexican and I have an English accent, the officials get so confused it really doesn't cross their minds that I could be anything of any danger.
This time I flew into Orlando airport, and the kind looking white male officer called me forward.
I passed him my British passport, he saw my US visa inside and he said, “What do you do?”
“I’m a comedian.” He looked at my face and laughed out loud, as though this in itself was the biggest joke.
“Where do you do that?”
“All over the world.”
He laughs again out loud and says, “Really?”
“What type of material do you do?”
“I talk about anything and everything whatever I see, observational.”
There was a long pause. He looked at my passport then looked at me and said, “Are you of Pakistani heritage?”
I said, “No, I’m Indian.” I thought I don’t want to get into some kind of Q&A about whether or not I am related to Osama Bin Laden. Technically, I am Indian. My mother was born in India before partition so it wasn't a lie.
He says, “So why do you have a Pakistani Visa in your passport?”
“Because I toured there.”
“Did they get it?”
“What language did you speak?”
“And they got it?”
“How do you know?”
“Because they laughed.”
“They laughed? Do you specialise in Pakistani jokes?”
“So what do you talk about?”
“All kinds of things. Life.”
“So you’re observational?”
There was another long pause. He looked at my passport, looked at me, and said, “Are you sure?”
“Sure about what?” I replied.
“Sure about everything you've told me.”
“Yes, of course I am.”
He then sat there and laughed out loud for about three minutes.
He said, “I've heard it all now. I've heard everything. This is something else. Comedy in Pakistan, who’d have thought, hey?”
I said, “Are you going to let me in, or are you just going to sit there chatting me up and laughing in my face all day.”
“Since you've made me laugh, I think I’ll let you in. Have a nice day.”
When I arrived at my show and told the Pakistani’s there what had happened they couldn't believe it.
“What? They didn't believe that Pakistani’s laugh? Do they think we are inhuman? Is this what they think of us?”
I had to tell them, that the Immigration Officer had actually laughed all the way through my time at passport control. So he must at least have found something about me funny. I was quite surprised at his reaction, because it had never happened to me before in all the years I have been coming to the US.
I have never flown into Orlando before; maybe it’s just Florida that thinks like this, maybe it’s just Orlando, or maybe it’s just him. I wouldn't want to judge all immigration officers in the US in the same way, that one man thinks that all people with Pakistani visa’s in their passports are humourless, comedy unfriendly, backward individuals that wouldn't know a joke if it shot them in the face with a handgun.
I hope that I in some way changed his mind about something, anything. We certainly had a laugh together and I quite liked him. I just think he hadn't travelled very far. Probably beyond the immigration booth in which he sat.
Not his fault then. You can’t blame him. Let me be a bit thick, a bit stupid and a bit ignorant.
He probably gets all his information from CNN, thinks that everyone in Pakistan lives in a cave and has never laughed, and the last time he saw a brown funny woman was on South Park, and she was imaginary.
But we both liked each other, we both got on, neither of us felt any animosity towards each other and most of all, he gave me some great new material.
Shazia Mirza is an award winning stand-up comedian and writer. She has performed all over the world. A columnist for The Guardian UK, she was named Columnist of the Year at the prestigious PPA Awards. Find out more from her website.