Iranian comedian Omid Djalili prefers to keep his comedy for the stage... not the supermarket, he tells Roz Laws.
Omid Djalili reveals he is talking to me while lying with his feet up on a couch, and at times it feels like we’re in a therapy session.
I listen as he complains about the nature of fame – how comedians long to be in the spotlight, but how he’s not really liking it now he’s got it.
The main trouble, it seems, is the pesky public who won’t leave him alone.
The Iranian stand-up comic and actor, star of such films as The Mummy, Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean, moans: “I was in London today for a meeting and wore dark glasses and a baseball cap, but still someone recognised me from a great distance. There’s something about my shape. This guy came running up, wanting a photo.
“I can’t get away from it, and I’m getting more and more disturbed by it. I’m weary of it.
“Comedians are mentally ill. We need to be the centre of attention, but after a while you do feel satiated. I purposefully do little promotion – if I get half-full theatres, I’m happy.
“Of course, it would be worse if people thought I was awful. At least they seem to like what I do. They are genuinely excited to meet me, and that’s a bit scary.
“There’s an expectation that I will entertain them. I’ve seen Jimmy Carr cracking jokes with the public and he’s brilliant, but I can’t do that.
“I go ‘I’m not as funny or talented as you think I am, you know’. At least not when I’m doing my shopping.
“But anything I say – even ‘Don’t hold me so hard’ or ‘Can you hurry up taking the photo’ – they find funny. I seem to be able to ramble on and people think it’s genius, so this is clearly the perfect time to tour.”
Omid is bringing his Tour of Duty show to Birmingham on this week with the aim of cheering us all up. If we don’t laugh at his jokes, he reckons we will chuckle at his dancing.
Dancing, it turns out, is a far more controversial part of his act than his musings on the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Colonel Gaddafi – because it elicited a ‘dance or die’ threat.
“I’ve become known for belly dancing in the act. At the beginning of this tour there wasn’t any dancing, but audiences clearly missed it.
“I got a card saying ‘if you don’t dance tonight fat boy, we’re going to kill you’. It was in beautiful handwriting, like an embossed wedding invitation and quite witty – someone had thought about it.
“I’m treating it as a joke, but I believe you should give the public what they want, so the dancing is back.
“It started when I did a 20-minute act in the comedy clubs and only had enough material for 17 minutes, so I filled with a bit of belly dancing.
“Then the act got stronger and I didn’t need it, but people asked for it. I’ve found some new moves, too. Breakdancers spin on their backs, but I found I can spin on my belly, very fast.