Omid Djalili: Tour Of Duty

DVD review by Steve Bennett

Showmanship has largely fallen out of favour in comedy, with stand-ups preferring to look and act if they are merely having a chat, rather than putting any effort into their performance.

No so in the Djalili camp. The man who introduced belly-dancing to comedy here goes all-out to entertain, from tapping away on the conga drums to reprising his carefully choreographed Fight The Power routine from Let's Dance For Comic Relief. He’s a one-man Royal Variety Performance.

He occasionally seeks explicit approval from the crowd, rather needily asking ‘you want more?’ or getting them to give him a mandate to perform his Godzilla impressions, implicitly acknowledging that it’s a bit of a cheesy segment.

Away from the song-and-dance stuff, Djalili defines his own brand of humour as ‘ethnic comedy in a nice, friendly way’ while accepting that he’s hardly ‘creating new paradyms’. Yet that is to underplay what he does. Certainly there can be a dependence on a a silly accent – and he *is* very good at accents – but he’s genuinely playful with it. He occupies a middle ground between tiptoeing around liberal sensibilities and mocking people for being foreign... instead, he’s just joking around, sometimes playing his Anglo-Iranian card to get away with being a bit cheekier than others might dare.

His own ethnicity is, of course, first in the firing line. He opens the DVD by asking if everyone’s having a good time and up for a laugh; when the pavlovian cheer returns the RP English gives way to a harsh Middle Eastern accent as he barks: ‘And that is why the West must be destroyed!‘ This cross-cultural collision is the perfect example of what he considers his BBC-friendly combination of ethnic name and well-spoken accent.

He chats among some members of the crowd – 'beautiful Egyptian name' he says at one point, sounding not so much like Al Murray as Ali Murray. There’s a little bit of politics, but generally only as a prelude to a silly joke; such as indulging in Dr Seuss-like linguistics of imagining Mubarak meeting Barack. Discussions of suicide bombers and the killing of Osama Bin Laden are no more in-depth, not that it matters.

His ‘half-baked theme‘ involves stereotypes in multiculturalism – or indeed in the regions and the sexes, as proved by countless comedy-club comperes. Though he has his cake and eats it, by getting laughs from the likes of a Nigerian accent, even if made in the spirit of friendliness.

Yet other strands have nothing to do with this at all. For example, story about the precious director on that deeply artistic triumph of modern American film, Sex And The City 2, involves some great characterisation and a neat Carrie Bradshaw-style payoff, one of several times his projection screen (cunningly designed to look like a giant smartphone) is judiciously deployed.

This is all delivered with the sense of warmth and inclusiveness with which Djalili easily charms the audience, both in the Hammersmith Apollo and at home. Gags are at the heart of everything he does, and the overwhelming spirit here is one of fun – not always the case in comedy – and it’s impossible not to be won over by his sheer strength of personality. Plus plenty of the jokes are rather good.

Interesting side-note: this is probably the only of this season's DVDs that bleeps out the f-word… but still carries a 15 certificate.

Published: 4 Dec 2012

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