Shappi Khorsandi: Asylum Speaker
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2006
Shappi Khorsandi makes the gloomiest of topics hilarious.
In 1984 Scotland Yard uncovered a plot to assassinate Shappi's
father. Terror had followed them from Iran to West London. Growing
up is hard enough without the Aytollah following you around.
In the early 80's Shappi became a refugee, long before it
became fashionable. Nevertheless, having left Tehran for London,
the family were still not safe. Assassins were sent to shoot
her father, the satirist Hadi Khorsandi, and the family went
into hiding under Scotland Yard's protection.
However, the hit squad went to the wrong address and, true
to Middle East tradition, arrived late. This incident was brushed
under the Persian carpet and despite having to check under their
car for bombs every day, the family went back to normal
arguments, eating disorders and love.
It's pretty much a convention of comedy that if you've got
even a slightly interesting ethnic background, you start your
career by affectionately mocking the accents and views of your
immigrant parents, while getting laughs from the culture gap.
All well and good, and true to the 'write what you know' maxim
but where do you go from there?
Happily, for her 'difficult second show', Anglo-Iranian comic
Shappi Khorsandi has truly found her form, using her considerable
charm and light touch to produce a breezily funny hour that's
personal without being self-indulgent, socially aware without
being overbearing, and jam-packed with great gags.
The Khorsandi family's migration to Britain is an unusual
case. Shappi's secular father Hadi was one of Iran's leading
satirists, mocking the imperialist puppet shahs running the country.
But come the 1979 revolution, he found that the ayatollahs hadn't
got much of a sense of humour who could have guessed?
and so became the subject of a fatwa. In fear of their lives,
and with good reason it turned out, the family decamped to West
London, where they were granted asylum and occasional police
Thus Khorsandhi's show covers Islamic terrorism, eating disorders,
racial integration and revolutionary Iranian politics. What a
bundle of laughs that sounds.
Yet it is consistently funny, making points with subtlety
which always serve the comedy, not overwhelm it. From the get-go,
the jokes come thick and fast; you're never a few seconds away
from a smart, original punchline, all of which are told with
an endearing girlish charm that hides a sometimes edgy intent.
'I'm a bit Blue Peter,' is Shappi's line to describe her well-bred
and very English enthusiasm, and she's not wrong
Slowly the gag-gag-gag approach eases back, to allow some
breathing space for Khorsandi's fascinating anecdotes about life
under the shadow of assassination not that her father,
who comes across as a wonderfully inspirational figure, seemed
to pay much heed.
The narrative also touches on Iranian history, the noble poverty
of her forebears (most likely over-romanticised, but still) compared
to her pampered Western life, the feeling of alienation as an
asylum-seeker not welcome in your homeland nor in your new country,
and the feelings that led to firstly her bulimia and secondly
to confront it.
This is a one-woman social thesis, cunningly disguised as
hilarious comedy, and a delightful way to spend an hour.