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Review of Omid Djalili at Greenwich Comedy Festival ****
IT’S been three years since Omid Djalili was last on tour and in the meantime the Anglo-Iranian comic’s cuddly mug has popped up in more annoying commercials and disappointing movies than you can shake a jester’s rattle at.
You would be forgiven for thinking then that Djalili is either a) not funny, or has b) become a sell-out.
But judging by his performance at the Greenwich Comedy Festival’s big top on Tuesday night, his humour is still as loveably daft and unexpectedly biting as ever and, as the rotund comedian cheerfully points out on the night, comedy gets you the house, but commercials put cars in the driveway.
Hitting the road with a new tour next month, the routine was still clearly a little rough around the edges, with gags such as one about Barack Obama’s state visit to Ireland and Osama Bin Laden as a chief exec, losing momentum half-way through and consequently receiving a more subdued response than he expected.
However, despite a few bumps which need ironing out, his familiar lampooning of racial stereotypes, cutting cultural observations and expertly crafted character comedy is as belly achingly hilarious and spot-on as ever.
Djalili made his name in the wake of 9/11, discussing sensitive and literally explosive topics such as suicide bombing and teasing with our preconceptions of the Middle-East.
It’s a tried and tested joke of his and he’s determined to squeeze it for every last laugh, this time making gags about the so-called Arab Spring.
“The people of Dubai have a very British attitude to revolution,” he joked, “Marching on the streets chanting, 'What do we want? Democracy. When do we want it? After Happy Hour.’”
Mixed in with his socio-political musings are silly, but side-splittingly funny send-ups of everyone from the Irish to Scousers, also milking giggles out of the audience with a gloriously daft but brilliantly accurate impression of the Nigerian accent.
It’s material which could be deemed offensive done by anyone else – a question which he ponders himself, wondering whether by doing jokes about ethnicity he’s inadvertently fuelling racism – but the spirit of it is good-natured and he knows his limits.
For all his deep-thinking, the biggest laughs came from the cheapest jokes – obvious gags about Camilla and German stoicism – but if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
The night was opened by the self-parodying Andrew Lawrence – a whiny, embittered, and slightly creepy, pixie whose angry rants on everything from hellish commuter trains to long-term relationships are certainly done to death but still safe bets for laughs.
Sandwiched between Lawrence and headliner Djalili was another circuit veteran Boothby Graffoe.
My heart usually sinks when a stand-up walks on stage with a guitar. While made popular by acts such as Bill Bailey and Tim Minchin, the musical comedy routine is difficult to pull off successfully.
While his routine was a little shaky at times, the audience soon warmed to his dry wit and relaxed stage presence.
And the same could be said about Djalili, whose affability made you forgive some of his more hackneyed material.
The mayo keeping this deliciously funny baguette together was Jarred Christmas as MC. Bubbling over with charm and warmth, lifting the audience up with his un-patronising and sunny routine not tearing them down with cheap jibes.
Duvets, bum cracks and jeans sizes are all put the crowd at ease. A very merry Christmas indeed.
Greenwich Comedy Festival runs until Sunday. For tickets, visit greenwichcomedyfestival.co.uk