Impact meets comedian Shappi Khorsandi. Known for her stints on Just a Minute and Mock the Week, we had a chat about her Iranian background and the (surprisingly) serious business of comedy.
Tell us about your new show Dirty Looks and Hopscotch.
I think the show I’ve been doing is a lot about being a little girl and growing up, and the trials and tribulations of not being one of the princessy girls. So I guess that’s what the title’s about, but it’s a pretty loose one. I talk about all sorts of things.
You share a lot of personal stuff with the world when you do comedy. Do you have to force yourself or does it come naturally?
Oh God no. I don’t force myself. I shared a lot in a previous show- that was very personal. I’ve reined it in a bit, but I just say whatever it is on my mind. I guess I’m fairly honest on stage. It’s not a conscious thing, I just feel what I say.
Is it odd meeting people knowing that they know details about your divorce and your life?
Well no, because they only know cartoon details of my divorce. It’s not actual details, but perhaps details of what I was feeling. Not the nuts and bolts of it and certainly not mine and my ex husband’s actual circumstances or situation. It’s personal, but I’m not a total idiot.
Have you ever been back to Iran?
No not since I was five years old. We became one of the many that were exiled so I actually can’t go back. It would just be a very unnecessary risk to go back to Iran under the current regime. I speak the language fluently- I feel very connected. I think when you speak a language of other people fluently, you always feel very connected to that place, whether you’re there physically or not.
“I guess I’m fairly honest on stage. It’s not a conscious thing. I just feel what I say.”
Do you still feel Iranian to some extent?
Not really to be honest. I don’t know what it is, whether I’m getting older or having children, but I find I just give less of a shit. I used to have a real identity crisis when I was younger with my Iranian and my English, but now I just don’t care. I just want to get on with my life.
I think having two countries is like having parents- a mum and a dad- you don’t belong to either of them exclusively. That’s how I think about Iran and Britain. They’re sort of my parents; if one doesn’t give me something, I’ll go to the other one. I don’t dwell on it. I certainly don’t want my children to feel there’s a split or that they need to make a decision there.
Food and language- that’s all you need from any culture. And literature obviously. As long as you’ve got those things it doesn’t matter where you live.
“I don’t know what it is, whether I’m getting older or having children, but I find I just give less of a shit.”
Oh yes obviously. That’s universal. The thing I’ve learned about having two different cultures is that people are the same everywhere you go. Sometimes when we don’t understand a people’s language we can think they don’t have a sense of humour. Everywhere has an area where the people are called sheep shaggers, an area where people are called thick and the same self-deprecating mother-in-law jokes. Everyone is the same. That’s the boring reality.
As a female comedian, are there barriers to achieving your kind of success? Does comedy feel like a boys’ club?
No, not really. Comedy and show business is all about rejection. You have to deal with so much rejection on a daily basis, whether it’s being rejected for a comedy club gig, or a Hollywood movie. I think men are better at dealing with it than women because from a very early age, the emphasis is on men to ask women out and to get that awful sexual rejection. I think they’re more hardened to it while women give it up a lot quicker because it hurts. Women are used to smiling and the world smiling back at us, while men have to deal with being teased.
“Why there’s a debate about women and men in comedy baffles me.”
How does that then limit female comedians?
If you wonder why women don’t do well on panel shows, then it’s because men tease each other. When we hang out we don’t call each other fat, we don’t ask who ate all the pies. We’re nice to each other. It’s a different world. I think that’s why. To say that women aren’t as funny as men is the same as saying that black people aren’t as funny as white people- you just wouldn’t have that debate, so why there’s a debate about women and men in comedy baffles me.
You just have to quietly get on with. There’s prejudices against you whether you’re a woman, or whether you’re fat, non-white or too white, so it’s really hard to pinpoint why somebody might get ahead of somebody else. I think it’s more to do with personal barriers than anything else.
Finally, what do you think is your career highlight?
Well, when I got put on Just a Minute I felt like I’d made it. That was my moment- I had a little cry to myself. Yesterday also I could have gone to Nicholas Parson’s 90th birthday, but I couldn’t go as I was at a lecture by Brian Cox. Other things that really excite me about my job is that once a year now on my birthday Barry Cryer calls me to wish me happy birthday. It’s like getting a telegraph from the Queen! You feel like you’ve arrived when stuff like that happens- when I get talk about highs of my career it’s never about Live at the Apollo or anything like that!
Shappi will be performing at The Glee Club in Nottingham on the 6th November.
Images: Henry Cooksey and Philosophy Football via Flikr.