Shappi Khorsandi: Asylum Speaker

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

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

about that.

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.

Steve Bennett

Review date: 1 Jan 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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