x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Finding a voice

Speaking before Friday’s performance at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the British comic Omid Djalili tells us he finally found his voice on stage

The British comedian Omid Djalili entertains an audience at the Madinat Jumeriah in Dubai in 2011. Duncan Chard for the National
The British comedian Omid Djalili entertains an audience at the Madinat Jumeriah in Dubai in 2011. Duncan Chard for the National

Speaking before Friday’s performance at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the British comedian Omid Djalili tells us he finally found his voice on stage

You are back in the UAE for the third time and playing in your biggest venue yet. It would seem the crowd loves you here.

The UAE has such a diverse audience because you have the whole world there. I like speak to a diverse crowd because I think of myself as a world citizen. The UAE for me is a symbol of the world and that’s why coming here is so exciting.

How would you describe your latest show?

This is a new show. I performed it for 30 nights at the Edinburgh Festival and it is basically about me talking about things that personally mean a lot to me. Things such as relationships and the men-and-women divide; things that other comedians dealt with and that I left because I thought they could do it better. I think that now that I have some mainstream success it is good to talk about more universal things and connect with a wider audience.

You have become a star now with sell-out world tours and high-profile acting roles. How are you handling your growing fame?

There is a period where you can become a bit of an idiot and everyone goes through that stage. When you become well known you think that it sets you apart from society but it doesn’t. The moment you start feeling that you are better than everyone else, then you have fallen in that trap.

So how did you keep yourself grounded?

The only people who can really keep you grounded are your family. If you don’t have any grounding in any real relationship then it is all ego and you just burn yourselves up. I also speak about these issues in the show, hopefully in a funnier way.

You have been performing stand-up comedy for nearly 20 years now. Do you feel like a veteran?

I still see myself as a novice. People now refer to me as a veteran of the comedy scene but that just feels weird because it has taken me 17 years to finally find my voice. I feel that I was a headless chicken in my early 20s and 30s and you do things unconsciously without thinking. One reviewer said about this show that I have matured and that’s how I feel, because you can’t get good at any job if you haven’t been doing it for a few years.

As well your stand-up comedy show, this year’s Edinburgh Festival had you starring in a stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption. You took on the role of Red, which Morgan Freeman beautifully played in the film. Was it a challenge as a comic to step into such a powerfully dramatic role?

I never thought when I took on that role that it could make me a better stand-up comic and that’s what happened. I became calmer and more centred on stage. I got some very good reviews for that role and I realised that’s because I wasn’t trying to steal the show, but help to tell a story. I took that with me to my standup comedy. Although it is me on stage, it is not really about me, it is about the stories that I am telling and the messages in the joke. What I learnt as an artist is that it is less about you and more about what you are trying to say.

And with your latest show, have you found the right balance between performance and message?

I know this is a weird thing to say, but I still think this show is too funny. I want the story to be more refined and I want people to walk away saying I really enjoyed what he said rather than he is funny.

Omid Djalili is at the Dubai World Trade Centre from 8pm on Friday. Tickets begin from Dh250 from www.timeouttickets.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae