I have performed comedy all over the world and in some strange places. In a cave in Kosovo, in a tent on a farm in the English countryside, a kebab shop, and a public toilet. So I thought coming to the US to perform for a group of doctors would be like a tea party.
The doctors were both men and women, although it was the women who specifically invited me. Before I arrived, I had a conversation with one of the organizers. I asked her, “What type of crowd will it be? So I can tailor my material.”
She said, “Tone it down a bit, some people might be conservative.”
"Conservative" didn’t worry me, I’ve met the Queen three times and Prime Minister David Cameron twice.
The trouble is the Queen and the Prime Minister are not Pakistani.
These were all Pakistani doctors working in the US. Most of them had been born in Pakistan and then came to the US to work and now live here.
I still wasn’t worried; I have performed in Pakistan many times. Last time I was there, I performed to a thousand people in a tent in Lahore -- the second largest city in the country. It was great fun, the audience was fantastic. I was so worried about offending people that I was very reserved; it wasn’t until the audience started shouting, “Go further, go further!” that I started doing edgier jokes, which they loved the most.
So this show for the doctors seemed to be going well. These doctors were laughing, and women especially laughed uproariously. I did banter with some of the women in the audience who had married doctors and who were now professional doctors' wives. For some it is a badge of honor, and -- given the chance -- this is what they would write next to "occupation" on their form for a Bloomingdale's Store Card.
They all laughed and cheered when I said, “You ladies have hit the jackpot!”
I said, “Who needs women’s rights when you’ve got a rich husband,” They laughed hysterically. And shouted, “You’re right!”
It’s not their fault that they are this way; it’s how a lot of these women have been brought up. In Pakistani culture depending on how your parents think, and where you’re from, it is still the ultimate goal for a woman to a) Get married, b) If possible to a doctor c) Serve your husband as he has primary status in that marriage.
It takes a very educated or rebellious woman to break the mold.
Later, in conversation, one woman said, “I am a doctor myself, but I’m not in control of all the decisions in my life. I can do what I want most of the time, but I’m not totally free. If I’m honest, my husband does control me ultimately.”
Another woman told me: "There are three types of doctors' wives. There are the trophy wives, the uneducated wives, and the doctors married to doctors. The trophy and uneducated wives feel like they’ve hit the jackpot. They are 'married to a doctor' but the reality is that underneath it, the husband then controls the woman with money and sex. Then the woman has no rights and is unhappy.”
On one hand, these women loved the status of being a doctor's wife, and the jewelry and lingerie that comes with that, but on the other hand they felt stripped of any liberties and power in their marriages.
I was only booked to do a 40-minute show, but they were enjoying themselves so much I stayed on for an hour.
I knew it went well as both men and women kept coming up to me after the show to say they enjoyed it and I received an email from one of the female organizers the next day saying that it was an "amazing performance."
At one point during the performance I said, “My parents really want me to get married. That’s all they talk about. I went home last week, and my mum said, 'Just get pregnant!' There was no hello? How are you? It was just get pregnant. Which I think is really strange. Because my parents taught me nothing about life, nothing about men. First time I kissed a man I was 25, second time I kissed a man I was 30, by the time I’m 40 I might get fingered, and for the big 5-0 I’m going to donate my hymen to the Palestinians as a missile defense shield.”
One of the male organizers came up to me at the end and said, “You lost me when you said the word 'hymen.'"
“Hymen?” I asked.
"Yes, hymen," he said.
“But you are all doctors; you must hear that word all the time.”
“I don’t care, I don’t want to be hearing that word in my face.”
“From an hour of material, the only word you remember is the word 'hymen'? Then it’s you that has the problem with it.”
He said it was a vulgar joke.
Since when has the word "hymen" been a vulgar part of a woman’s anatomy? It’s quite disturbing that a doctor should think that. Remind me never to visit a Pakistani doctor if I ever catch herpes. Honestly, why is the word hymen more or less offensive than the word aorta?
I said, “You can’t invite a comedian here and then tell them exactly what to say. You can’t have your cake and eat it.”
He said, “Yes, I can. That’s why there is cake, to eat and people do eat it.”
Proving to me, this man had no sense of irony or humor and was taking everything I say literally, cake eating, hymens, the lot.
I said, “Look, you’re not really a comedy audience.”
He said, “Yes I am, I’ve watched Murphy Eddie and The Leno.”
I simply wrote the truth about what I saw at this gig. It wasn’t a criticism, it was my observation. It’s what we English call "satire," not a common phenomenon amongst Pakistanis.
Since this gig, because of what I wrote for the English paper, I have since received emails from the organizers threatening that:
“They will be publicizing my ungrateful and nasty behavior,” and “That they are planning a social media campaign about this negative experience.”
It wasn’t a negative experience for me, or the 300 people that stayed to watch me for an hour.
Many Pakistani people are unable to debate or discuss or laugh at themselves in an effort to grow as a culture, so they attack anyone for making jokes or shedding light on the hypocrisies within our culture. Which is often why you don’t hear many women’s voices from this culture. Debate and discussion between men and women is not encouraged; it certainly wasn’t encouraged when I was growing up.
If a woman had any kind of an opinion she was labeled a "big mouth," a "nuisance" or a "troublemaker" and "not a desirable option for marriage."
Demure, subservient, and being able to cook a good curry were always assets when being "put on the market" for a doctor husband.
So they tried to silence me on stage, then tried to silence me off stage and justified their actions by saying that I am ungrateful and nasty.
I was brought up with satire -- about the prime minister, the royal family, our actors and sportsmen. Anyone and everyone and their shortcomings are held up to ridicule, with the intent of shaming individuals and society itself, into improvement. We have a laugh at the people involved, but its greater purpose is constructive social criticism, using wit as the weapon. If Pakistan had more of this, I think they would be more evolved as a nation.