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Ayesha Hazarika: Swapping politics for comedy


Ayesha Hazarika’s in the thick of it
Ayesha Hazarika’s in the thick of it

It’s no surprise that Ayesha Hazarika went into politics – as a child, her parents on long drives would make her and her younger brother recite the names of cabinet ministers like times tables.

A special advisor to former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman MP, Hazarika was literally in the thick of it when the party was in government. Now she is using her experiences of being in the Labour party as material for her stand-up comedy gigs.

“It’s kind of what happened to the Labour party and why things went so badly for us,” said Hazarika when Eastern Eye caught up with her recently.

She first started working the stand-up comedy circuit while working as a civil servant back in 2002. Hazarika would travel around the country for little money after work and get home in the early hours. So how did she manage what sounds like a punishing schedule?

“I have my Indian mother’s work ethics and am deeply weird as well. You must work hard, you must work hard… okay I’m going to work two jobs now,” she said.

Her gigs ran from sharing platforms at charity events with comedians like Jo Brand to rowdy bars and clubs. At one such venue, a pub known for being tough and acts being booed and heckled, Hazarika had the lights turned off halfway through the set, leaving her in the dark.

The 40-year-old was awarded an MBE for her services to politics earlier this year. But Hazarika said her parents were not too impressed when she decided to come to London to pursue journalism and politics.

“I did a law degree. They hoped that I would be a doctor, lawyer or accountant. I used to joke, don’t worry, your son is a doctor and your daughter is a spin doctor!” she said.

Hazarika was brought up in Scotland by parents who are from Assam in India. Her father, a doctor, came to the UK in the late 1960s and after he married, moved to Scotland. Her mother has been in local government for over 20 years.

Drawing from over a decade’s experiences of politics herself, Hazarika said that her upcoming stand-up shows in London and at the Edinburgh Festival will have an underlining serious message but also quite a few laughs too.

She thinks Armando Iannucci and his TV comedy series The Thick of It are “just amazing”.

“I used to love Spitting Image in my youth, The Mary Whitehouse Experience, and early Woody Allen stand-up from a young age,” she said.

Goodness Gracious Me was a really big influence on me. It was amazing to see as an Indian kid growing up.”

Talking about politics today, Hazarika said the election of Sadiq Khan was “absolutely brilliant”.

“Politics is still quite a closed shop. The people who really have all the power do tend to come from quite a small pool,” said Hazarika.

“It has largely been white, male, Oxbridge; a certain type of person, not that diverse in terms of ethnicity or in terms of women. What better signal to young Asian people that politics could be for them.”