“It’s the most honest and messy and daring and risky I’ve ever been.” | Zahra Barri on not being special at the Women in Comedy Festival

Tell us about your show, Zahra Barri’s Special.

Yes, I’d love to talk about my show, it’s one of my favourite things to do! Okay, so it’s an ironic title because I recently found myself in a devastatingly raw existential crisis; I realised that I’m not special. But it’s fine, because even though I’m not special, I’m a comedian, so I can make my comedy Special.

Your show is described as honest and blunt. What kind of home truths can people expect from the show?

As a kid, my Mum was constantly telling me off for not thinking before speaking. I’d constantly embarrass her by saying (and doing) really inappropriate things (which I talk about in the show). But I wasn’t really being naughty, I was just being honest!

My comedy show is based around the fact that I’m still that naughty little kid who would say things I shouldn’t say and (do things I shouldn’t do). And even though I’ve spent my life getting told off for it, I’ve reached a pivotal moment of realisation and enlightenment; that actually I shouldn’t try to cover these thoughts and feelings up. Everyone should try to revert back to their childhood innocence, that’s when you were the most honest and truthful after all.

And the truth will set you free, I mean unless you’re Bill Cosby.

Where does this dry, brutal style of humour come from?

I lived in Saudi Arabia where women don’t have a voice. (I was there when they said that women couldn’t drive, that was a law, now it’s just an opinion). I think when you’re oppressed so much, it makes you rebel. I don’t want to be silenced anymore.

I want to be honest and open and authentic and not feel like I need to cover up any part of myself (or put an Instagram filter on). If I look like a dog on Instagram it’s because I’m hungover not because I put a puppy nose filter on my face.

What inspired you to write a show with truth as its core theme?

I see a lot of things on social media that aren’t truthful and I see a lot of people living their life in denial about things. Hey! I’m Egyptian I know all too much about denial (sorry, that’s the only pun I’m going to do, I promise).

You took your show as a work in progress to Edinburgh. How was your Edinburgh run? How much has the show evolved since Edinburgh?

Most people go to Edinburgh with a polished, rehearsed, astutely written, neatly structured show. Not me! My run at Edinburgh was essentially me throwing shit at the wall and seeing what stuck.

I experimented, I said things on stage I’ve never told anyone before. It was the most honest and messy and daring and risky I’ve ever been. I think when you’re writing a show about honesty, you need to be able to try, fail and expose flaws. That’s what its all about really isn’t it? But don’t worry, the show is a bit more polished now after 25 days of experimenting.

What do you hope people will take away from the show?

I want them to walk away saying, ‘wow that was a funny show, I mean she probably should go easy on all the Bill Cosby jokes, but other than that, funny and honest stuff!!’ Or something of that ilk.

What made you want to bring the show at the Women in Comedy Festival?

I am a woman. I am a comedian. I like festivals. If I’ve learnt anything from venn diagrams…

Are there any other shows at the Festival that you recommend people catch?

I think basically everyone! Sadia Azmat and Nobumi Kobayashi, Kiri Pritchard-McLean, Rachel Fairburn, Sasha Ellen, Laura Monmoth, Sian Davies, Rachel Creeger, Desiree Burch, Jen Kirkman, Madeline Campion, Harriet Dyer, Kath Marvelly, JoJo Sutherland, Thanyia Moore, Celia Byrne, Kathryn Mather, Amy Gledhill, Gabby Killick, Pauline Eyre, Pernilla Holland, Allyson June Smith, Charlie George and Jennie in Charles and Jen.

How do you think comedy as an industry could improve to be more supportive of women?

Tampon machines in green rooms please.

Also – I think that the industry is doing loads to support women in comedy THESE DAYS. Diversity quotas are all the rage and quite rightly so because “you can’t be what you can’t see.”

I think it’s the audiences that need to evolve. Every female comic has had THAT audience member that comes up to you and says, “Now I don’t normally like female comedians but you were actually really funny!” (Side note: several women have said this to me after shows so there’s a great deal of internalised misogyny, unfortunately). Or you have the blokes that sit in the front row with stony cold faces and their arms crossed. But these people will eventually evolve with the times or die.

All we have to do is keep being funny because essentially funny’s funny. That’s undeniable.

Do you have any advice for other women looking to break into comedy?

Whatever you do, do NOT go into a hotel room with Louis CK.

Also FYI – all my favourite comedians are women. I think women are fucking funny. Any group who have been oppressed throughout history create the best art. Which is why if there is any black, Jewish, female, gay, trans comedian out there – make yourself known!

No, but seriously, just get on stage. That’s really the only thing you can do. You learn the rest as you go.

Zahra is performing Zahra Barri’s Special on October 13th at the Women in Comedy Festival.

Book your tickets here.

Find out more about the Women in Comedy Festival here.

You keep up with other things Zahra has going on by checking out her website or following her on Twitter and Instagram.

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