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on Tue, 27 Sep 2016
Award-winning funnyman Omid Djalili is probably one of the most subversive comedians currently doing the rounds on the UK comedy circuit. An actor as well as a comic, Omid has appeared in numerous box office blockbusters, including Gladiator, The Mummy, Sex And The City 2 and the James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough. He visits the Midlands this month with his brand new stand-up show, Schmuck For A Night. What’s On met up with him to find out more...
Your new show's called Schmuck For A Night. Why Schmuck?
I like the word ‘schmuck’. It means ‘fool’ or buffoon. You have to be a schmuck to do comedy in today’s climate. I’m embracing the schmuck in me to take on the big issues of our day. Plus, it’s a word that ends with ‘uck’, which can only be a good thing.
The show is mellower than your other tours. Is that fair to say?
I've become less frenetic. I used to dance every two minutes in between the stand-up. I can’t even remember why. It was mentioned to me that when I danced, audiences were laughing at me, not with me. So it was either stop dancing or ban my manager from the gigs.
You touch on Brexit, ISIS and Trump in the show. It's a long tour - will the show change while you’re on the road?
I think the show will change even while I’m on stage. It’ll be so current sometimes that audiences won’t laugh until they get home and turn on the TV.
Are you looking forward to that challenge?
Of course - although my main challenge is getting the audience in a good mood again after my support act, Boothby Graffoe, has been on. Sometimes people haven’t finished booing until a few minutes into my act!
You produced a show known as the Iraq Out & Loud Project at the Edinburgh Fringe, which involved reading the Chilcot report in full, 24 hours a day. How did the idea come about?
I was on the phone to Boothby in July and said, “We should do a show at next year’s Edinburgh Festival where we just read the Chilcot report 24 hours a day.” He mentioned it to a promoter called Bob Slayer, rang me back and said, “There's a guy called Bob who's mad enough to do it this year.” So while Bob was building a shed to stage it in, we were contacting all our friends in comedy to read it and kick the idea off. It took 285 hours and 1,444 people to read it. I read too. It was a truly one-off experience.
It was a great idea. The Edinburgh Comedy Awards judges certainly thought so, awarding it the Panel Prize.
At my age, winning an award! What a pleasant surprise - although I’ve found that when an idea is really good, it's no longer your idea. The idea belongs to the collaborators. In fact, the idea felt like it belonged to the comedy industry. Comics do nutty things all the time at the festival. Sometimes it’s a 24-hour show, sometimes mad benefit gigs, but sometimes an idea really captures the zeitgeist. Comedians are very adept at smelling bs - by which I mean sensing when we’re being fobbed off - so it was important to us that the readings were a simple, non-political, people-powered public service.
Did you find anything funny in such a serious report?
Yes. It was in the final moments of the readings, after 285 hours and 1,444 people. The very last paragraph of the Chilcot report is: ‘How to read the Chilcot report’! It was a great punchline.
You were involved as executive producer on another project about similar subject matter. The documentary We Are Many was about the 2003 protests against the war in Iraq. Are you proud of the film?
It’s not a comedy, but you could easily say it’s my crowning achievement so far. I’ve worked on the project for the last five years - countless edits, screenings, meetings, discussions. The fact that Universal Pictures bought it, that it’s been so well received and hit number one on iTunes in about 10 different countries, you could say I’m very proud of it. A film promoting worldwide public opinion as a ‘second superpower’ has got to be doing good.
Will the film and the Chilcot report reading make a difference, do you think?
You can never quantify the impact of such things, but certainly it felt like they were important projects to be part of. In this life you're either a problem or a solution. I’d like to think these projects - which raise more questions than answers - are firmly entrenched in the solution camp. Or at least trying to be!
Your stand-up isn't particularly political or agenda-based, though...
Well, yes and no. I'm not party political, if that’s what you mean. I have no party political agenda. But I'll talk about what's going on around us, trying to contribute to the discourse. In fact, that’s what the show should have been called: Schmuck Talks About What’s Going On Around Him, Trying To Contribute To The Discourse.
You’ve just been cast in The Nutcracker with Morgan Freeman and Keira Knightley. How’s it going to feel, filming and then showing up at a theatre to do stand-up?
You’d think it’d be weird, but it has never fazed me. Once, in Barnet years ago, I was late, so didn’t change and came straight to the theatre from the set of The Mummy at Shepperton Studios. I walked straight on stage in my film costume. I went on stage in full 1930s Egyptian prison warden garb. I even heard an audience member say, “Well at least he’s making an effort.”
Away from stand-up, you have an impressive acting CV, having worked with Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Johnny Depp, Mike Myers and Sarah Jessica Parker. Who’s been the most fun to work with?
That’s a tough one. I’d say - and anyone who’s worked with him as an actor would agree - that Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones was probably the most extraordinary. He played the father of Captain Jack Sparrow - Johnny Depp - in Pirates Of The Caribbean 3. His character shoots and kills my character for no reason. This seemed to bother him. In fact, he shot me about 14 times, and after each take he’d come up to me and say, “Listen, you do know I don't mean this?” After every take. It was almost like a joke, but it wasn’t. Bang! and he’d shuffle up and say, “Nothing personal mate, I hope you realise.” Then, after another take, with the same sincerity and intensity, “It’s all acting. You know that? You’re not upset with me, are you?” On one occasion he shot me and just said, “Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do.” The final time he shot me, he just stood over me and mumbled, “We’ve all got issues. It’s all about mummy, innit?” How right he was.
Omid Djalili brings A Schmuck For A Night to Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, 22 October; Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa, 29 October; Palace Theatre, Redditch, 4 November; Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, 15 November; The Place, Oakengates Theatre, Shropshire, 18 January; Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, 24 January; Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 5 May & Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, 13 May