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Omid Djalili at the Lowry

Trudie Robinson talks to Omid Djalili about his random approach to comedy

Published on April 3rd 2008.

Omid Djalili at the Lowry

If you don’t think you’ve heard of comedian Omid Djalili but have watched a Hollywood film featuring a Middle Eastern supporting character in the last fifteen years, chances are you’ve seen him at work. At least the side of him that acts in blockbuster films anyway.

At first the Iranian Brit found himself typecast as a ‘dodgy Arab’ character. But he’s not bitter, quite the opposite. “No. I’m lucky that I made it into films at 31-32 which is the age people apparently usually make it into films because you start developing as a person, particularly for men. If you’re not pretty - and I’m a short, bald bloke - you take what you’re given and try to make things better. So in The Mummy what was on the page was a 1D character, I elevated it to 2D. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted but it was one of the first roles I did.”

Since then the variation of roles has improved with the role of Spiro in My Family and Other Animals, portraying Picasso and most recently a Scot. “I was having trouble with the accent and I said can’t we make him Arabic? They said I thought you were trying to move away from that? I said yeah but it’s easy. I’m struggling with it to be honest, but always happy to be offered something non-ethnic,” laughs Djalili.

He also found fame in the States on TV in ‘Whoopi,’ unsurprisingly Whoopi Goldberg’s sitcom. Consequently the US have taken a comedic interest in him as well as a filmic one.

“I’ve told them I can’t do anything in America now until I do something here. I’m a bit tied up to even think about America but it’s always there and if something good comes up then I’ll do it but it has to be a special project.” What’s currently tying him up is the preparing for the second series of his BBC show. Plus there’s the latest stand up tour.

He started out in stand up after a suggestion from his then missus. “I was married to someone who said to me have you thought about doing stand up? I was an actor. She knew Alan Davies and said he’s a stand up, he’s doing quite well. This was back in ‘95 so she took me to The Comedy Store and I thought no way in hell could I do this! I come from a poofy, poncy theatre background I could never do that, they’re unbelievable and she said but this is what you do when you do a speech at a wedding – it’s stand up. I thought stand up was all Tarby and Jim Davidson…” Needless to say he’s a bit different to those two, having carved out a niche for himself as a multicultural comic. Over the years he’s really found his voice.

“That’s what being an artist is, developing your own sense of humour and your own viewpoints (and putting them out) into the mainstream of society because ultimately you can have influence. I’m trying to present an alternative viewpoint with a different multi-cultural background but definitely reaffirming my fundamental Britishness. I think that’s a very important cultural association to make. It’s not about the comedy of division, it should be inclusive and not denying your Britishness.”

Omid Djalili plays the Lowry on Friday 11 and Saturday 12 April.

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