Sadia Azmat wearing a dark peach headscarf and looking into the camera.

Sex Bomb author Sadia Azmat tells us how to work an audience like a stand-up

We talk about mentoring, writing a book and reading the room.


Often, “making it” feels like you have to be just one version of yourself … Success is getting where you want to be without losing yourself.

This interview for the FEMALE LEADERS series is with comedian and author, Sadia Azmat. Sadia is a comedian who loves sex. She’s also a hijab-wearing Muslim woman. Her book Sex Bomb: The Life and Loves of an Asian Babe is an unflinchingly honest memoir. Sadia shares her life as she learns to embrace her sexuality and be a proud British-Indian Muslim.

Sadia discovered her sexuality when she saw a copy of Asian Babes in a corner shop. She documents her journey – keeping away from arranged marriages, discovering love and sex, and feeling distanced from her culture. She’s unafraid to spill her truth. If you’ve ever felt different or alone, her book will remind you that you deserve to unleash your inner sex bomb too.

I met Sadia at an event in Manchester and wanted to know how she got into comedy. It’s a notoriously difficult career, especially for women. We spoke again online when Sadia was home at her apartment in London.

So Sadia…

How did you get into comedy?

Basically, I love comedy and I grew up watching a lot of it. It wasn’t something I thought was a proper job (or that I’d be able to do). But I’ve always loved writing jokes. I tried finding work as a writer, but it’s hard if you don’t have contacts.

Luckily, I bumped into a comedian and showed her some of my material. She said, why don’t you do stand-up? It wasn’t something I’d thought about. She told me if it didn’t go well, I wouldn’t see those people again anyway. I booked a gig. I was very nervous and it still went well. Someone at the gig gave me a business card and asked me to do one for them.

I normally ask if you’ve faced any challenges, but you’re really open about your experiences in your book.

Yeah! In this case, you’re wondering which challenge we should talk about.

It’s a great question. If I answer it honestly, I think I was my biggest challenge. I’ve had so many challenges, but the main problem was that I wasn’t consistent or confident. One of the big challenges is to keep doing something when you want it so much and you’re just not there yet. You can take it personally because it means a lot to you.

Can you read a room before you get on the stage?

You try to work on your instinct so you can work with the energy and change it if needed. The thing is, sometimes it can start very flat and then build. And sometimes the audience have laughed so much they go a bit quiet. You’ve got to believe you can up the ante. You know, really push the crowd.

How does a comedian prepare for a stand-up gig?

I did a gig in Eton recently and I started with why do they call it Eton Mess? Showing an interest in the audience makes them more likely to show interest in you. Connect with yourself too. Sometimes you’re confident and sometimes you sense nerves. Whichever you feel, it’s about recalibrating so you feel ready. If you’re relaxed the audience feels like they’re in good hands.

Sadia Azmat wearing a dark peach headscarf and matching off-the-shoulder dress and looking into the camera.

Why be extra hard on yourself? … You need to be on your side.

Being able to recalibrate sounds like a great skill. How do you do that?

After you’ve done some type of public speaking for a while, you start to get a read of yourself. It goes back to that challenge of getting out of your own way. Comedians tend to focus on the things we’re not good at, rather than the things we do well. Why be extra hard on yourself? You already have hecklers in the audience. You need to be on your side.

What is success for a stand-up comedian?

I don’t think it’s people recognising you in the street – although I guess that’s one aspect. I think it’s making a living from it and feeling you’re making the work you want to. The BBC Sounds podcast, No Country For Young Women, felt great because I had loads of creative freedom. Writing a book was another successful project where I enjoyed the creative process. If I was able to make a TV version of Sex Bomb that would be a great milestone for me.

Often, “making it” feels like you have to be just one version of yourself. Or you have to please people or do something that doesn’t feel right. Success is getting where you want to be without losing yourself. It’s keeping your essence and being authentic. If you’ve too many people defining what that is, it can be hard to keep hold of what it is for you.

In Sex Bomb you talk about mentors. How do you find a mentor who gets what you want to do and brings out the best of that for you?

I love the topic of mentoring. I don’t think we talk about it enough. We stumble upon mentoring at different times in our careers and lives. Sometimes it’s a lifeboat and sometimes you’re not really in the right place. It’s not a one-size fits all. And it depends where the mentor is in their life and what they’re able to give. A good mentor helps you stay positive and shows you what you can do to change your situation.

When I first had a mentor, I didn’t understand my power to question things. You can take too much of what they say at face value. And there can be blurred lines – you might see them as a friend, but they might not. They might see you as a project or just as a mentee.

A good mentor doesn’t tell you what to do. They can recommend one path, but they tell you about the other paths too. Also, you can take a break. You can put it on pause to do some work and come back. Sometimes you just need some space.

Sadia Azmat wearing a dark peach headscarf and matching off-the-shoulder dress and bending over to look into the camera.

Why do we just perceive Muslim women to be repressed?

Let’s talk about writing and publishing your book Sex Bomb. How did it come about?

When the clubs closed because of Covid, I couldn’t do stand-up. I saw a tweet by my editor Katie Packer. She wanted to help people interested in getting into the publishing industry. After the passing of George Floyd, she was trying to help people from diverse backgrounds to get into a very undiverse industry.

Her tweet was popular and had over a thousand likes. But I reached out to her anyway. Comedy has taught me to try. I shared an article I’d written for Metro titled Horny Muslim Women Like Me Aren’t Supposed to Exist. And told her about the BBC podcast.

She’s interested in pop culture and social commentary and felt mine is an area that hasn’t really been covered. Why do we just perceive Muslim women to be repressed? There’s a whole conversation that needs to be had. She pitched my memoir – Sex Bomb – to Headline publishers and we got a deal.

In Sex Bomb you say you wanted to lose weight before starting your career. Can you tell me about that?

Look, I’m Asian. I wear a headscarf. I can’t be fat as well. No disrespect to anyone reading, but all these things make it hard to be a comedian. When I was fat, people were awkward around me. It was also about my relationship with myself. Why was I overeating or misusing sugar?

When I started doing exercise, I felt good. I think you feel more confident when you’re able to lift things and you feel stronger – mentally and physically. I’m not telling people they have to look a certain way. But I wasn’t happy being bigger. Why continue doing that if I wasn’t happy?

It’s often not something we prioritise, especially as Asians. We’re either looking after everybody else or we’ve got two or three jobs. It’s important to have balance and I think that’s what I’ve learnt. I could be running around at a million miles an hour, but if I don’t spend time for myself then I’m neglecting myself a little. So, thirty minutes (to do yoga, swimming, running … anything) is important to reinvigorate ourselves. Especially as women, as we tend to give a lot of ourselves to others.

Who inspires you?

That’s another great question! I feel like you’ve asked me a lot of great questions. People who put real effort into what they do. Funny people and people who overcome adversity. It shows you how strong people can be. People who’re doing things they believe in – even if that means a career change. I think that’s incredibly brave.

It’s that going against the curve. Society tells us success is climbing some corporate ladder. People who decide they want something different – self-starters – they motivate me. Inspiration is seeing people doing things differently or making a change that stays with you.

Finally, what advice would you share with women who want to step out of their comfort zone?

First, be careful who you take advice from! You know what, I think it’s worse to live with “what if”. So, be patient and be kind to yourself. I don’t think we talk about patience enough or appreciate how important it is. We learn from our failures and the things we don’t know. Doing the unknown is a great teacher. Often, we give ourselves hassle for the things we could do better. But that energy could be used to get better at the thing we want to do better.

Sadia Azmat wearing a peach off-the-shoulder dress and headscarf. She's holding the end of the headscarf and looking into the camera with confidence.

Sadia Azmat was introduced to the stand-up circuit after a chance encounter with a comedian in a call centre. Her BBC podcast with Monty Onanuga No Country For Young Women was named as one of the best audios of 2018 by The Observer. And it was in Apple’s top picks 2018. You can get Sex Bomb from Waterstones (or wherever you buy your books) and it’s available in audio via Audible. Get a signed copy by sending Sadia a DM on her Instagram account. And go to her website to join her mailing list. You’ll get a free guide to Everything You Always Wanted to Know About My Hijab* (*but were afraid to ask).


Sadia’s biggest challenge was finding the energy to keep doing stand-up. Especially, when she wanted it so badly and wasn’t getting the success she craved. Finding resilience is something Olympian, Abigail Irozuru, talks about in her FEMALE LEADERS interview. Read Abigail’s interview here.

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