Omid Djalili, Touring | Comedy reviews, news & interviews
Omid Djalili, Touring
The British-Iranian returns to stand-up with a free-form show
After a busy few years away from stand-up – although never off our film and television screens – Omid Djalili bounds back on stage for his new show, Tour of Duty, and as one of our more intelligent and thoughtful comics, he's welcome back. The show, which I saw at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, has a high political content and much to recommend it, even if at times it feels like a work-in-progress.
The extra-curricular work he has been doing for the past three years includes The Infidel, Sex and the City 2 and a BBC One sketch show. He was also busy doing those irritating advertisements, a subject he addresses smartly at the off. People say comics who do ads are selling out, he tells us, but while comedy puts food on the table, "ads put Jaguars in the garage”. The joke is typical of Djalili – seemingly arrogant and self-referential, but in fact delivered with a healthy dose of irony.
He appears in the ads using a Middle Eastern accent, but thankfully he has dropped his annoying shtick of appearing as an Iranian at the beginning of each show before revealing himself to be someone born in London; it was funny the first time you saw it but lost its comic appeal quickly after.
Djalili does, however, run through a number of pitch-perfect accents – from Irish to Arab, from cockney to American – as he tells his well-crafted jokes on subject matter ranging from solving the Middle East problem to the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi, to dad dancing at his daughter's 18th-birthday party. His political material is smart and sassy - “An Irishman and a Greek went into a bar.... And I paid for it!” - but often subtle too. "Suicide bombing - it's a cultural thing for us. It's like jury service - you say you want to do it but you don't really."
He's a natural clown and no show would be complete without him doing some dancing, but it desperately needs a narrative
He also dares to do some West African material, complete with accents. It's interesting to note that if a comic at the other end of the political and intelligence scale sported a Nigerian accent my heart would be in my mouth, but Djalili's intentions are clear; they are not about showing anybody's supposed superiority to anyone else, but the genuine delight to be taken from living in a multi-ethnic UK. His Ghanaian joke, by the way, is a corker.
The comic references his work on Sex and the City 2 in passing and I would have liked more on Brits (and indeed darker-skinned Brits) being the go-to group for Hollywood directors looking for baddies in their films. Djalili speaks interestingly on all manner of subjects, and working on a film like this must have provided richer pickings than the gags he tells here.
The show is a curious mishmash of incisive political comment and Djalili messing around. He's a natural clown and no show would be complete without him doing some dancing – with the new addition of him playing the bongos for some “boom-boom” jokes - but it desperately needs a narrative, or at least a throughline better than “You forget when you've been away from stand-up for a while...” to act as an intro to riffs that appear to be unconnected and undeveloped as ideas, in a show that goes all over the place at times and underuses the large video screen behind him on stage.
Djalili is a superb writer and performer, so it's frustrating that he hasn't quite fashioned a more focused show in Tour of Duty, particularly considering the material the Arab Spring has offered him on a plate; but when he's good, he's very, very good.
- Omid Djalili is touring until 27 February, 2012
Watch a clip of BBC One's The Omid Djalili Show
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