Omid Djalili: No Agenda

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

Before bounding down the showbiz stairs of his vast Pleasance Grand room, Omid Djalili announced himself as ‘the Les Dennis of the Middle East’.

It’s meant tongue-in-cheek but there’s a hell of a lot about the Anglo-Iranian comic that is pure gameshow host – the boundless energy, the unabashed playing to the gallery, the cheesy grins and the relentless clowning. Despite the cover of irony, these tricks work for Djalili the same as they do for Brucie.

But this show marks something of a departure after a decade coming to Edinburgh. For alongside the powerful showmanship, playing up the jolly ethnic minstrel, Djalili now talks more about himself and his culture.

In these times, and with his background, it would be remiss of him not to talk about the fanaticism that drives some to suicide bombing – and he does so with a mix of the ridiculous and some genuine insight.

Insight, too, comes as he talks about the Iranian culture: the mix of hospitality and humility that can flip into naked aggression, as the world has seen.

Djalili is equally prone to flipping, as he confesses. He has what he describes as a ‘heat distribution problem’ - which means high temperatures go straight to his head and he can transform, Hulk-like, from mild-mannered middle-class Englishman to a frothing, raging football hooligan.

The showman in him exploits this to great advantage – to such an extent, in fact, that you suspect it may be little more than a comic device; though I’ve been assured it’s a genuine affliction for him.

But lest you think this talk of Middle Eastern cultures and medical problems be too serious, along comes a crazy disco dance or an impression of Godzilla being done for benefit fraud.

You see, Djalili hasn’t put all his old tricks behind him – and even still does his old audience-pleasing favourite of pronouncing a batch of ethnic arts shows in their native accent.

It gives the show something of an awkward split personality, part-candid, part Vegas. Perhaps, when you’re performing to a room the size of sports hall, you can’t rely on being too intimate.

Djalili’s solution is by no means perfect, leaving a show that doesn’t quite feel complete. But simply for the uplifting way his technical brilliance sends nearly 700 people out with a smile on their faces, even after relieving them of nearly £15 a ticket, he earns an extra fourth star.

Review date: 1 Aug 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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