Sunday 21 January 2018

Q&A: Omid Djalili, British-Iranian comic

Why comedy is like professional soccer, having a joke pinched by Bill Clinton and starring in 'Sex and the City 2' . . .

Ed Power

Ed Power

So Omid, you're a successful actor and television star. And you must have trousered a fortune from your voice work on Grand Theft Auto. Why submit yourself to the stress and misery of a 100-date stand-up tour?

First of all, a lot of my good friends are in stand-up. I recently bumped into Tommy Tiernan in Manchester. It's good to compare notes with friends. Also stand-up is one of the purest forms of entertainment there is. For me, doing it in the first place was never about being funny. I was trying to express myself. I was trying to desperately say, I'm a dual-culture person and I'm finding it hard.

When people have tried stand-up, the difference between the few sperms that get through and fertilise the egg, as it were, is that they have something conscious or subconscious to say. Even comics you think are surreal, like Harry Hill -- they want to show life is absurd.

But you're walking a tightrope, aren't you? If you muck up on a movie set, nobody gets to see your mistake. Do it during a stand-up show and you're out there on your own.

I did a terrible show on the tour. I'm not afraid to say it. I was thrown by some heckling, this constant walking to the toilet by the first and second row. It really threw me. I actually lost my precision, the diction of the words. People couldn't hear what I was saying. I would do a piece without including the set-up -- really stupid things.

It's like with Steven Gerrard -- the great soccer players do it week in, week out. You are allowed one bad gig in a 100. That's what sets Steven Gerrard apart -- he has one bad game in 100.

You must have mixed feelings about your Iranian heritage. On the one hand, it's the land of your parents' birth. On the other, as members of the Bahai faith, they would have faced terrible persecution had they stayed after the Revolution.

I have a complicated relationship with Iran. Most Bahais are very proud to be Iranian and will do everything they can to help Iranian society. I wouldn't call it love-hate exactly. But I am aware that a lot of Iranians have a great deal of prejudice towards the Bahais.

What's this about Bill Clinton stealing one of your jokes?

We shared a stage in Qatar. It was a charity event for the Asian tsunami. He had some jokes lined up but because he was following a comedian of Middle Eastern ancestry, I think he was a bit thrown. He kept calling me 'the young man -- the young man with the great jokes'. And he said, 'I will tell that young man I will be doing some of his jokes'. He used a circumcision joke of mine, at some event where he was trying to get Jewish votes for Obama.

Among your many acting gigs you've appeared in Michael Myers' critically panned The Love Guru.

That's not a film I've ever talked about. Were you going to say how bad it is?

It's just that you've also been in Sex and the City 2. They were probably the two worst-reviewed movies of the past 10 years.

Love Guru was correctly panned. Sex and the City 2 -- I just watched it for the second time a month ago. It's not as bad as people think. It's highly entertaining.

What about voice-acting for video games. That must be a rather odd experience.

It's strange in the sense that there is a camera on you the whole time. It's attached to a helmet which comes in front of you. Anything you say and do, they can use.

I was quite shocked that a line of mine I threw in as a joke ended up in Grand Theft Auto. I was by the coffee table and, to make someone laugh, I said I was so tired I had to fly to Vegas and bang bitches for two weeks to recover. What kind of line is that? And they put it in.

Omid Djalili plays Vicar Street, Dublin, on Saturday, December 3

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