This was the second time we’d seen Omid Djalili do stand-up. The first was about ten years ago at the Oxford Playhouse, where I remember his material played a lot on the Western World’s insecurities with people from the Middle East and he nicely juxtaposed terrorists with delightfully middle-class north London types. Since then, sadly, terrorism hasn’t exactly gone away; and it no longer plays a central theme in his comedy. He does however still surprise and undermine our preconceptions with his ability to blend Western and Iranian characteristics in one big melting pot and come up with some revealing observations that challenge our suppositions with one huge belly laugh. The tone is set from the start when his introductory music to the stage is his beguiling vocal performance of the Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men only to realise that he enters the stage to the lyrics Iranian Men.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We were unable to pre-order an interval Merlot because the first half would only last twenty five minutes or so. That can only mean one thing – a warm up act. And what a top quality warm up it would be in the company of Boothby Graffoe, darling of Radio 4 comedy shows, joke writer extraordinaire, and the only comedian to be named after a Lincolnshire village. He has a very welcoming and unthreatening style, appearing to take his material at a relatively gentle pace, coming across as thoughtful, and enjoyably self-deprecating where it comes to his musical prowess. The mouth organ is used only as a deterrent.
During the course of his short stay with us, he provides his own insight into the mind and working practices of TV medium Derek Acorah, during which he can also find out some interesting snippets about audience members should he be so inclined, delightfully revealing how the whole psychic stage thing is utter nonsense and tosh. He also has a rather anarchic sequence where he becomes a German mother talking to her French child; looking back on it I still can’t quite work out what all that was about but it was amusing anyway. Mr Graffoe is a very entertaining man – not a lot in the way of uncontrollable guffaws but a very wry and intelligent approach that makes you appreciate a lot of subtle humour.
From Boothby Graffoe’s quiet and slightly reserved approach, you can’t get much more of a contrast than Omid Djalili’s loud, uninhibited, joyous persona. Here’s a man who celebrates a corny joke by bursting into a mock belly-dance, limbs cavorting in a parody of I Dream of Jeannie, floppy microphone simulating an unrestricted penis rising and falling with the Aladdin rhythms. For a big chap, he’s quite a physical comic, with many a ridiculous sequence of movement that results in his breaking into a not insubstantial sweat. You’d think that he doesn’t really care what he looks like, but actually he’s turned out quite dapper in a smart suit – he really could be the legendary embarrassing dad dancing at a wedding. Above all, he comes across as someone who’s really comfortable as he is. There’s not an ounce of that comedy neurosis that characterises so many other comedians. He is what he is, and you take it or leave it.
Among his very enjoyable observations and sequences, he explains how a happy marriage can always be attained providing you accept that your wife always knows best; why he really enjoys visiting America; why he loathes being called a “Paki” (his word, not mine, I hasten to add); and the informal way in which an Iranian father will sit around the house, even if his new daughter in law is about to visit. It’s all insightful, clever, meaningful and thoroughly revealing; plus it has the benefit of being extremely funny.
His routine ended with a Question and Answer session, the questions having been written on pieces of paper by members of the audience during the interval and then placed into a cardboard box for Mr Djalili’s subsequent consideration. Ever since Mrs Chrisparkle’s brother had been selected by the late Frankie Howard as a plant in the audience to ask one of a number of specially pre-rehearsed questions – his was “Do you ever ad-lib?” – I’ve been suspicious of Q&As with comics. I’m sure that a number of the questions Mr Djalili considered and replied were genuine inquiries from our audience; but I wouldn’t be surprised if a handful were fully scripted either. Does it matter? Probably not.
A very enjoyable night’s comedy from a comic who performs with splendid pace, a love of language and a sense of the ridiculous. Definitely worth catching as he tours the country!