New Statesman 2009

Shazia's Week

19 March 2009

I'm looking out of my apartment window and I can see the "Hollywood" sign embedded in the Hollywood Hills. It's a million miles away from where I'm from. When I was growing up in Birmingham the only signs I saw were exit signs telling us how to get the hell out of there.

 

I open my blinds every morning and stare at the letters for at least 20 minutes, while saying a little prayer to Steven Spielberg.

 

This Hollywood sign conjures up a lot for me: hopes, dreams, fame, fortune, and Clint Eastwood. I think the first time I ever saw this sign was when I was about five years old, in a film starring Clint Eastwood. I've associated the letters with him ever since.

 

America's obsession with celebrity has been magnified by the arrival of Michelle and Barack Obama - the official king and queen of the United States. Between them they are on the front cover of almost every magazine. Barack is everywhere except Lesbian Muscle-Building Weekly, but it's only a matter of time before the lesbians warm to him as well.

 

It's taken a beige man to knock Britney Spears off the front covers. Beige is the new white.

 

There really are three people in that marriage: Barack, Michelle and Oprah Winfrey. The media love Barack so much they are eating his balls for breakfast. Barack's balls with skimmed milk are a favourite. Obama jokes are strictly off limits, especially from foreign comedians. The Americans get very offended.

 

Here in the US there are just two things that are magnifying the mood of the moment: the economy and Octomom. The line between celebrity and reality is so blurred, people have forgotten which one is more life-threatening. Nadya Suleman is Octomom, a woman who has just had eight babies despite already having six at home. America is angry, accusing her of leeching taxpayers' money to support herself and her 14 children. Her dad even went on The Oprah Winfrey Show to defend her, since she has received death threats from ignorant people who blame her for making the recession worse.

 

I was waiting to pay for petrol when a young man asked me what I thought about her. I said: "I know nothing of the story." "Well you should read up on it!" he screamed. The Church of Celebrity really comes down on you if you're not up to date with goings-on. They're like Jehovah's Witnesses - there's one waiting on every street corner to pounce on you and convert you to their way of thinking.

 

Then a woman working behind the bar at the comedy club I was performing in tried to explain the recession to me. She said: "I took my daughter for a sleepover at her friend's house. Her friend lives in a $3m house bought on credit, but her parents couldn't afford to furnish it. She and all her friends had to borrow sleeping bags."

 

My manager took me to the taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Another client of his, a well-known comedian in the States, was on the show. As I approached the entrance of the NBC studios, there was a parking space with a sign the size of a house saying "Jay Leno". In it was parked the blackest, shiniest, blingiest car I have ever seen. It was a palace on wheels. I was waiting for a little Filipina to pop out of the boot and start serving food to passers-by.

 

The show had just started when Jay Leno announced: "On tomorrow's show, the president, Barack Obama, will be our guest!" The audience without hesitation took to their feet, whooping and cheering. Everyone was hysterical. The president was going to be on a late-night, American chat show. That would be the equivalent of the queen being on Des and Mel.

 

And I was given a backstage pass for the taping of the show.

 

To be continued . . .