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For Pakistani/British comedian, material draws on ‘deeply confusing’ cross-cultural childhood

September 12th, 2014
10:33 AM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Nadia Manzoor wanted to be an astronaut.

“Nadia, how can you be astronaut?,” she recalls her father asking. “Other women can't be astronauts. Who will cook? Who will clean? Who will feed your husband if you're floating about in space?”

For the Pakistani Brit, that experience was less demoralizing than inspiring – inspiration for sardonic humor, and a one-woman show, “Burq Off!”

Comedy, she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday, was a tool “that allowed me to look at difficult things like, you know, dogmatism and traditional thinking and patriarchal oppression” in a lighthearted way.

“My father from the earliest I can remember reminded me that I shouldn't get fat, I shouldn't eat too many French fries, because my inherent purpose would be jeopardized, which is to be a wife and a mother.”

Like all children, Manzoor said, she wanted to explore – and to her, that meant being an astronaut.

Growing up at the confluence of traditional Pakistani culture and comparably liberal British culture, she said, was “deeply confusing.”

“My values that were being described to me in home were very much about how the white person and the English person was the other, was a sinner; we shouldn't become like them.”

“But at the same time, I was sent to an English school for the education. So there was this confusing thing … my parents came here for the freedoms, but yet they weren't fully able to embrace those freedoms.”

The result, she said, was that she started lying from a very early age.

“I would lie to my white friends about where we went on holiday; I didn't want to tell them I went to Karachi and drank lassi and, you know, peed in a hole in the ground toilet.”

“My brother's name was Khurram and I would say his name was Kevin.”

Conversely, she would hide her school life, her friends boyfriend, from her parents.

With time, everything has changed.

“My father is a completely transformed human being,” she said. “He went from a very kind of oppressive, patriarchal, domineering Muslim man to a feminist, to a spiritual, evolved person who recognizes that we're all here as equals, that you know, has become one of my biggest fans and supporters.”

He is “able to see himself through the show in a light that I think has made him reflect on his past and, you know” – switching to an accented impression of her father – “‘I was that person. But I'm not that anymore, thanks to my daughter.’”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Islam • Latest Episode
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