| Iranian Omid Djalili talks of the challenge after terrorist outrages

Iranian Omid Djalili talks of the challenge after terrorist outrages

Imagine it. You're dusting down some of your proven stand-up routines for a simple enough one-man show of your greatest hits. Then four planes are hijacked and the world isn't such a funny place. Add to that the extra dimension of a Middle Eastern background, and looks that Hollywood has already cast as a terrorist. "My first thought was to cancel," said Omid Djalili, who found himself in exactly that uneasy situation this month. "I didn't feel funny, I wasn't up to it and I though that being Iranian might make me a possible target for nutters. "But the terrorists would have won if I'd cancelled the show. The challenge is to talk around the subject that's happened, to try to make sense of a senseless act. And to get laughs." And as Djalili delved into the issues surrounding the unforgettably tragic events of September 11, he found that he had plenty to talk about. 'Fundamentalism, the Taliban, Bush and the political machinations - it's all very fertile ground," he said. "My mind's been racing. I was surprised how much I came out with" So in under two weeks, Djalili has written a 20-minute comedy routine about this most serious of subjects. And he believes he's become a better comedian because of it. "I hadn't worked much on my stand-up for the past couple of years. I'd got to the point where I'd got a 20-minute, 40-minute, hour-long set that built crescendo and got laughs. "But I've become a more thoughtful person because of this. Before, I'd be too scared to take my act to different areas, I'd shy away from it. There always had to be laughs "This is a new kind of comedy. It's given me a real chance to become better as a stand-up. This is not the time for cheap one-liners, it's an opportunity for social comedy, what real stand-up should be." Djalili will be performing his new, more political, material at London's Bloomsbury Theatre on Friday and Saturday - gigs booked a long way in advance of the atrocities in America. And he's already tried out the fledgling routine at a couple of comedy clubs in the capital. "It went down very well," he says. "I was slightly shocked, but people are ready to laugh in the spirit of understanding. I was surprised by the depth of laughter." Of course, being a British Iranian gives Djalili a distinctive viewpoint of the impending conflict, able to understand both sides of the cultural divide even though he is not a Muslim. And he's noticed a change in attitude since the attacks on America. "People have been looking at me in a different way," he says. "Even my next-door neighbour." It perhaps didn't help that he has been sporting a suspiciously bushy moustache and magnificent sideburns - all in the name of a movie, of course. The unfashionable face furniture was necessary for the big screen version of Meera Syal's novel Anita And Me, set in 1974. Filming on the Britcom, which Djalili describes as being a "genuinely sweet" cross between East Is East and Billy Elliot, has just wrapped, and the movie is due out next year. It's not his first film role, of course, having become a Hollywood regular in the likes pf The Mummy and Gladiator. And in his latest movie, Spy Game, he appears opposite Brad Pitt and Robert Redford in an unforeseeably timely story, based on real incidents, about CIA bungling intelligence operations in the Middle East. Djalili expects a lot of hype before its November 22 release, as it has become "quadruply relevant" in the light of recent events. But while hanging out with Hollywood megastars in glamorous multi-million pound movies is all well and good, Djalili's heart remains in stand-up. There's no bigger buzz than when you've written a joke and it gets a laugh," he says with conviction. "Nothing beats it."

Published: 13 Jul 2006

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