In the centre of a packed lecture theatre, an 18th century portrait is the focus. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a History lecture, but the vivacious woman who bounds onto stage is the opposite of serious and stuffy. Sharing her fascination with Emma Hamilton, a woman people have either never heard of or known only as Nelson’s mistress, Khorsandi presents a show which is as relatable as it is strikingly different.
Khorsandi doesn’t rely on Brexit or Trump or periods to make herself funny; she relies purely on her own wit. It’s a difference to many other comedy shows at the Fringe which becomes quickly obvious; Khorsandi doesn’t blend in. Her show is about Emma Hamilton, but it’s also about herself – while she imagines Hamilton getting stopped for ‘selfie’ sketches, Khorsandi reflects on her own experiences of getting photographed in the street. Mistress and Misfit is all about judgement, whether from others or from yourself.
Race is an integral part of Khorsandi’s show and her life experiences, where she reflects on the fact that even positive judgement is just that; judgement. Most intriguing is her opinion on the BAME awards, where she talks about her decision to withdraw herself from consideration. “Writer of colour makes me sound like a crayon,” Khorsandi says, as she declares that she wants her work to be judged on its merit, not her skin colour. While it be easy for someone to feel like Khorsandi’s being inconsiderate, she never makes general statements. Her discussion on race is purely personal; never does Khorsandi declare the writers who do receive BAME awards should feel the same way she does. It’s refreshing to see someone who unapologetically says what she thinks, although that’s not always a good thing; Khorsandi also talks about her colonoscopy, where a nurse chattered to her excitedly throughout about how much she loved her famous father’s poetry.
While the experience of a colonoscopy is likely a dark moment in many people’s lives, Khorsandi gets grittier. While considered stand-up comedy, Mistress and Misfit also deals with uncomfortable themes in a way many other performers would be too wary to try. It is here where Khorsandi’s skill as a performer is evident, in her ability to segue from raucous laughter to hard-hitting truths. Khorsandi shares a dark part of Emma Hamilton’s life where she becomes pregnant while she is the mistress of an aristocrat, and is forced to give up her child. Heartbreakingly, Khorsandi relates this to telling her ex-boyfriend she was pregnant, where he replied that he should have “frog-marched” her to the abortion clinic. In the hushed silence there’s a moment where it doesn’t matter if you recognised her from TV or had never heard of her before the show, in that moment you’re sure Shappi Khorsandi is one of the most powerful women you’ve ever seen.
Whether you’re 80 or 18, Khorsandi has a way of making you feel welcome, whether by making each member of the audience feel like her best friend or sharing such a variety of stories that there was something everyone related to. Maybe you didn’t use flour and water to try and make yourself into a goth, but maybe you’ve had a one night stand. “it’s Edinburgh festival!” Shappi Khorsandi grins at one point, after having asked an audience member to call her mummy. “Anything goes!” It’s a motto that suits Mistress and Misfit, where Khorsandi’s wit and brazen personality leave the audience unable to predict what she might say next. There’s one thing you can predict though: you’re going to laugh your head off.