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Omid Djalili at Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall - Interview

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by Andy Coleman (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
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Award-winning comic tells all about his new stand-up show
He has been in Hollywood blockbusters like The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, West End productions such as Oliver! and hit TV programmes, including Dickensian and Moonfleet, but now actor and comedian Omid Djalili is back on the road with his new stand-up show Schmuck for a Night. It's a huge tour, playing 108 dates between October 3, 2016, and May 20, 2017, including a night at Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall on October 22.

Why is your new show called Schmuck for a Night?

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!

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?

Well, I think the show will change even while I'm on stage. It'll be so current sometimes audiences won't laugh until they get home and turn on the TV.

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 [fellow comedian] Boothby Graffoe in July when I 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 and 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 1444 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. Though I've found 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. It was important to us that the readings were a simple, non-political, people-powered, public service.

Omar Djalili, We Are Many, Schmuck for a Night, Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall, Stand Up Comedy

You were involved in another project about similar subject matter, as executive producer on the documentary We Are Many 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 ten different countries, you could say I'm very proud of it.

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 is that 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 phased 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 and walked straight on stage in my film costume. I went on stage in full 1930s Egyptian prison warden garb. I even heard a crowd member say, "well at least he's making an effort."

Away from stand-up, you have an impressive acting CV and have worked with Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt, Robert Redford, Johnny Depp, Mike Myers, Sarah Jessica Parker… who's been 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, Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones was probably the most extraordinary. He played the father of Capt 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?" Once 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!
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Why? Energetic stand-up from Hollywood star
When: On tour October 3, 2016 till May 20, 2017
Phone: 0870 320 7000 (Wulfrun Hall)
Where: Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton, then touring
Cost: £27
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