Omid Djalili: Tour Of Duty

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Back on tour for the first time in three years, Omid Djalili serves up a real Middle Eastern meze of a show, offering a tantalising taste of lots of ideas and styles, some delicious, some more everyday.

It means there’s something for everybody – but if you want a more substantial portion of some of the spicier or more rewarding dishes, you may still leave peckish, having had your appetite whetted, but not sated.

The abiding image from the Anglo-Iranian’s career to date is probably of him belly-dancing across the stage as he drives home some cornball gag. Fans of that will be pleased to learn his old-school showmanship hasn’t deserted him on his new tour – though it’s mostly conga drums rather than shimmies this time around -– so even though he dallies with weightier issues, you’re never far from some razzle-dazzle.

After the obligatory mention of those Money Supermarket ads, Djalili races though some strong gags in his most successful style, playfully undermining the Iranian stereotypes of mad mullahs and suicide bombers. When he barks out ‘death to the West’, the brutal force of the angry tone contrasts nicely with his more affable, eager-to-please side.

Djalili is more Middle England than Middle Eastern and acutely aware of the comic traditions he employs, musing on the conventions that any performer with a hyphen in their ethnicity plays up a ‘battle’ between the two sides of their personality – then, of course, he does the exact-same thing.

He also knows the power of a ‘comedy foreigner’ accent, with expert mimicry of Nigerian, Armenian, Irish, camp American, as well as Iranian. It is, of course, wonderfully good natured, but could almost be a 21st Century Mind Your Language, and Djalili acknowledges the ambiguous etiquette of such mockery in culturally sensitive times.

But he considers it the same level of stereotyping as mocking Scousers for being petty thieves or Geordie lasses for skimpy clothes. Although he doesn’t particularly approve, he thinks it a harmless bit of ribbing that everyone (and a certain type of comic in particular) uses as a short-cut to forge common bonds, regardless of its veracity.

So he employs these techniques but feels a little hypocritical about them; though it’s not always easy to convey that – especially when the funny voices get such a good laugh.

More than once he calls his return to stand-up ‘traumatic’ and speaks of the confidence it requires. And there’s a sense here that Djalili – behind that bulletproof light entertainment exterior – hasn’t quite got the self-assurance to explore his ideas in an intrinsically funny way: rather he’ll put a few ideas out there, then retreat back to the brash silliness for safety.

In that vein, jokes about the Arab Spring – which Djalili is almost duty-bound to cover concern themselves with trivialities, rather than anything too substantial, but they work. There are some great lines in the show, and even the more corny ones are made palatable, since Djalili sells cheese more effectively than Dairylea. Yet there is flab, too, and he sometimes leans too heavily on routines of little consequence, such as the shaggy-dog story of the Star-Trek-loving taxi drivers that turns out to be something of a theme.

As well the ethnicity-based material, Djalili also has the odd anecdote about his home life – touchingly and refreshingly acknowledging that he loves his wife, in sharp contrast to the misogyny-tinged grumblings of many married male comics. Though, of course, the couple have their disagreements – over fried eggs, mainly.

And at times the show slips into An Audience With… mode, as Djalili he takes us through such career highlights as The Infidel, The Mummy, playing Fagin in the West End and, erm, Sex And The City 2. This latter culminates in a nice Carrie Bradshaw-style payoff, played out on the giant smartphone which constitutes his backdrop, as well as prompting him to further ponder his own style of comedy, wondering if he doesn’t telegraph the humour too much.

That’s perhaps a valid comment, but the fact that he’s a ‘big’ performer works well, on stage at least. Squaring this with the noble aim of covering more complex, intelligent material without turning off his mainstream fanbase is less easy, and not yet uniformly successful – but at least he’s giving it a go.

Review date: 31 Oct 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Woking New Victoria Theatre

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