OMID DJALILI ON DUBAI, OSAMA, AND MORE

As well as being a big fan of Frankie Boyle and Stewart Lee, I also really like Omid Djalili (pronounced “Omeed Jaleelee”). Djalili describes himself as “the Les Dennis of the Middle East” and “the man who puts the fat into fatwa, the fun into fundamentalism and the ham into Hamas” (check out my About page for similarly crazy descriptions of myself).

He has also come up with such one-liners as “I am the only Iranian comedian in the world. Technically that’s three more than Germany”, “Keep the laughter coming, it helps with my asylum application”, and “What do you call an honest Iranian businessman? Asif”.

He is probably best known as a bit of a movie star, mainly playing Arab scum-bag bit-parts: he sold queer giraffes to Oliver Reed in Gladiator (2000), he was killed by a scarab beetle in The Mummy (1999), and he also starred alongside Robert Redford and Brad Pitt in Spy Game (2001). Here is an extract from his brilliant autobiography Hopeful about Djalili filming Spy Game:

No autobiography is complete without an element of shameless name-dropping, so I will end with my favourite showbiz story to illustrate a point that might become clearer in retrospect:

I, Omid Djalili, from the crazy guesthouse and with my string of failed A levels, spent a brief time with Robert Redford. I’d even tried to be funny with him after we were introduced on the set of the film Spy Game (also starring Brad Pitt) by the late and very wonderful director Tony Scott. I was young and eager to make an impression:

‘Mr Redford,’ I said, ‘I’m a big fan. I must say, you were the best thing in Hawaii 5-0.’

After a slight pause during which he sized me up with steely blue eyes he replied, ‘Why, thank you. You were great in Dr Zhivago [starring a young and extremely handsome Omar Sharif]…but you’ve let yourself go.’

Very important learning point number seven — humility. Never mess about with the greats when it comes to being humorous. They’re always going to be funnier than you.

But it was on that particular film set where something miraculous occurred. As we finished one day — and I’ll never forget those immortal words, ‘That’s a wrap on Brad, Robert and Omid’ — the three of us were led through a marketplace in Casablanca to our waiting cars. It had not gone unnoticed that The Mummy was showing several times that week on the local film channel. This was the most popular channel in the country, watched consistently by an audience of two million a day. People in Casablanca were beginning to recognise me, and I must admit this was thrilling, especially as I spent most of my free time roaming the streets (so yes, it happened a lot, I made sure of that).

As we made our way through the market, I walked at a respectful distance behind the two blond bombshell film stars and observed them striding confidently past Moroccan folk who clocked them with a faint glimmer of recognition. With Redford it was ‘he looks familiar’; with Brad Pitt, not as famous then as he is now, the Moroccans seemed to be thinking ‘that face rings a bell’ but still nothing. Suddenly their eyes fell on me and immediately lit up. ‘Ya Allahhhhh! Mumia! (The Mummy!) ‘ and a crowd surged forwards. There is a photo somewhere of Pitt and Redford looking back to see what the commotion was all about and seeing me surrounded by an eager crowd, hyper-ventilating and signing autographs. Who needed the Mountainview Theatre School panel now? – Omid Djalilil, from his autobiography Hopeful

Anyways, below is a clip of Omid in 2014 from the BBC’s Live At The Apollo, along with a few choice quotes from that show. If you like this clip then there are also a few others that follow. Enjoy!

Good evening! Are you well? [YEAH] You all had a drink? [YEAH] You all up for a laugh? [YEAH] And THAT is why the West must be destroyed!…

Last year was the year they killed Osama bin Laden. We all remember where we were when bin Laden was killed. I remember where I was. I was in a compound in Abbottabad, pretending to be a woman. We spent ten years looking for bin Laden. We scoured 27 countries, looking for bin Laden. We spent 2 billion dollars, looking for bin Laden. Where do we find him? In his house! [APPLAUSE]…

The Arab Spring went all round the world. It started in Tunisia, then it went to Egypt and Syria. Every country in the Middle East was galvanised. Everywhere except Dubai. Because Dubai is a very interesting country. They’re a bit too, umm…There’s too much money there. There were people on the streets, going, “What do we want? Democracy! When do we want it? After happy hour!” And when you go there, they always give you some kind of…There’s always a guide who goes, “Omid, you come here. You come to Dubai. We are the Las Vegas of the Middle East. You want girl? We get you girl. You want drink? You can drink. You want to gamble? You can gamble. All day long. Girl, drink, gamble. Gamble, drink, girl. Drink, girl…You want to drink girl? We blend girl, you drink it! You want all three? We blend girl, you drink it, we bet how quickly you down it in one!” I said, “Actually, no. I’m not into all of that. I’m actually quite hungry.” “Ah, what you want, my friend? Anything you want.” I said, “I quite fancy a bacon sandwich.” He went, “Pork?! What do you think we are, infidels? This is a Muslim country! Now kindly drink your woman and leave!”…

There is a thin line between being genuinely entertaining and mental illness…

I will say, ladies and gentlemen, this kind of stuff, it’s always hard to get laughs because people do get offended and I hate to offend. It’s just a gift I have. It is! It is, because I was in Wales and I told…I said, “I love the fact people in Wales, you love your kind of terrorism, don’t you?” About 100 years ago, they used to put bombs by the sewers, by the rivers. And whenever English dignitaries would come, no-one would die, they’d just shower them with sewage. I said, “It’s great to be in the home of sewer-side bombing.” OK? And people got offended because you come here with your suicide bombing jokes. I used to do jokes about suicide bombing. I’d say, you know, “There are now suicide bomber schools now. I mean, how does that even work? ‘Where’s your bag?’ ‘Oh, I left it on the bus.’ ‘Well done. House point.’”…

I love young people, you know. I was on a long-haul flight once. I was flying a ten-hour flight. There was a young person sat next to me. I thought, we haven’t had a chat. It’s two hours in. I might have a quick chat. “Hello, do you want to have a quick chat? Might make the time go by quicker.” She went, “Sure, what do you want to talk about?” I said facetiously, “Why don’t we talk about Iran’s nuclear weapons programme?” And she goes, “All right, then.” And she put down her crayon. She goes, “Before we do that, can I ask YOU a question?” I said, “Sure.” She goes, “When a horsey does a poo-poo, it comes out in long tubes, and yet when a sheep does a poo-poo, it comes out in little pellets, and yet when a cow does a poo-poo, it comes out in flat, round pats. Why is that?” I said, “That’s actually a very good question. I’ve got no idea.” She goes, “Well, how do you expect me to talk about Iran’s nuclear weapons programme when you don’t know shit?”…

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