Shappi Khorsandi

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 21, 2009 1:55 am    Post subject: Shappi Khorsandi Reply with quote

In this new series comedian Shappi Korsandi talks about her own life, while other guests tell their own stories. As standup goes it's probably one of the best combination of styles I've heard in a while. The producer should get a prize, but they probably already know how cool they are, so feck 'em!
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 1:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Relative values: Shappi Khorsandi and her father, Hadi Khorsandi
Beverley D’Silva
July 26, 2009

HADI: We came to England from Tehran in 1977, 18 months before the revolution in Iran began. In Iran I had been a satirical columnist for a national daily newspaper and for women’s magazines. I wrote three articles against the key figures of the revolution. They were not hard articles, but the regime didn’t like any criticism. They want everybody to obey, and I couldn’t. There was a big demonstration against me. They wanted to kill me — not officially, but in the street a knife comes to your stomach and your throat. I went underground, and eventually we left the country. In a taxi from Heathrow we passed through Ealing Common, and I smelt the grass and I smelt freedom.

Shappi was born in Iran, and was 3½ when we came here. I took my kids to the nursery and I said to the teacher: “My daughter is half past three, and my son is half past four.” I was very proud of expressing my English. In London I published my own satirical paper against the regime. Nobody spoke against the regime then; I was the first.

I wasn’t a politician or hardliner. I never attacked religion, only the superstitious side of religion. I was, and am, an artist-writer, a liberal social-democrat poet. The regime didn’t like my newspaper, and they tried to rub me out. But with the intelligence of Scotland Yard, who received information of a plot to assassinate me, I’m still here. They arranged for us to stay in a bed and breakfast in Eton. I told Shappi and her brother, Peyvand, that we were going on holiday. They said: “On a Wednesday? And what are those policemen doing here?” But we were okay and things settled down.

The first job Shappi did was impersonating Mrs Thatcher for us. She was seven. She’d say: “We shoot Irish rebels with plastic bullets; we don’t kill them, we just make them crazy.” I don’t know where she got the idea from. Not from me. I learnt from her, though, when she went to the stand-up-comedy teacher — how the first part of the show should be longer than the second, and a microphone is a must, even if the audience is only two people, because it’s stand-up comedy, not theatre.

Shappi was very selfish as a child, as she is now. I think she was an anarchist as well. She got through in her way of not caring about anyone or anything, and when she decided to do something, she did it. If we said: “Why don’t you do your homework?” she would shout at us: “Why don’t you do yours? Your English-speaking embarrasses me.” She and her brother taught me about racism, feminism, and human rights over here. They helped me to integrate into the Western culture.

When Shappi was a student, I used to give her a little vodka and caviar because I wanted to demystify alcohol, so that if she goes with a man and drinks, she can control herself. She, in turn, the first time she did a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Festival, banned me from the city. I think she doesn’t like to be criticised, full-stop. I didn’t mind that she was a woman doing stand-up because I am a feminist. I feel I may become a lesbian soon.

Now she is married, and I like my son-in-law and have sympathy with him — I know how difficult it is living with Shappi. After all, I did it for 25 years. I’m worried about their life, Shappi being in showbiz and having a child, and I’m advising her to do less. I say: “Be careful. There’s your high life on stage, yet at home there is one person waiting for you. Look after that one more than the crowd.”

And so now I am a grandfather, and after 45 years of being a writer I have ended up being the babysitter for another writer. I enjoy this job.

It helped me give up the cigarettes, even my shot of whisky. Once she was daughter of Hadi Khorsandi; now I am father of Shappi. I’m glad to be her father. She is more quick than me. I like that she is writing: literature is more valuable than showbiz. If she does another book I’ll be happy because stand-up is something that goes in the air. But a book can go next to Shakespeare.

I’m sad I cannot go back to Iran. I am sad for the people there because life is tough. We didn’t like the shah, who was in power when we left, but what is happening now is far worse. When this lot came to power they lied and said there would be freedom, that women could be free in their appearance. But they were killing the people. They kill journalists and bloggers.

For 30 years this volcano has been waiting to erupt. Now that it has, the people are fighting back against tyranny. I can’t march with them in Tehran, but I protest with them through my writing. The regime tried to shut its youth off from the world, but the internet has shown them they are not alone. I do miss my mother country, but when I leave England I get homesick for London; the years I’ve been here are equal to the ones

I spent there. My life here has more adventures. I feel safe, too: there are many now that speak against the regime. The only thing that will kill me now is my cholesterol level.

SHAPPI: When I was little, my dad was always going out the door in a suit and aftershave, and always coming back with people. He was the hub of the Iranian community — writers, politicians in exile would come. At home we spoke Farsi, and there would be heated debates, arms would be flapping, voices raised. And Dad was always the centre of attention. I remember watching him being so funny and fabulous, and feeling I would burst with pride and love.

My parents had endless parties that went on till all hours, any day of the week. During one of them, the police came round in response to a complaint. I have pictures of these policemen in my parents’ flat — they were doing Iranian dancing. Dad’s infectious. He’s a people person. But it could be hard to get his attention; I sometimes wanted to shove them all out, and go: “Hello, it’s me!”

For Dad, everything revolved around his work. He wrote through the night. I didn’t read his writing then — I still don’t, though it’s wonderfully accessible and I know some of his poems by heart. When he wrote, he was quiet and peaceful. Otherwise he was manic. A tornado. He’d come in at 4am with a tray of breakfast, saying: “Eat up, get in the car, we’re going to Brighton.” An hour later we’d be visiting friends there. He’s so spontaneous.

Being with Dad was always great fun, and funny. He has an element of slapstick. Nothing would be out of bounds. One day the whole family had a yoghurt fight. We were flicking it at each other, and everything — us, the carpet, pot plants — was covered in yoghurt. We were bent over laughing. He had instigated it all. Of course, my mum had to clean it all up. She is the unsung hero.

I started doing impressions when I was seven, first impersonating my father, then my mother. Then I did Margaret Thatcher impressions. At the parties I’d perform for everyone. My brother would be Martyn Lewis, interviewing me. My father would hush everyone up to listen. He’d be very proud when I made the grown-ups laugh. I once asked him: “Would you rather I became a doctor or an actress?” He said: “An actress.” You’d win his approval and praise if you got people to watch you or you made them laugh. Getting people to notice you became a measure of how good you were as a person.

Dad was more concerned with our thinking than academic success. He introduced me to Charlie Chaplin, and we’d have discussions about him and socialism and the underdog. He had a way of making you see that people are equal. A pharmacist friend of the family had drugs for field hospitals during the war. I was nine, and I said: “Are you making sure the medicine is going to Iranians not Iraqis?” And Dad said: “Does it make a difference?”

When the revolution happened in Iran, there was a darker side to our lives. My uncle was shot dead by the shah’s police when he was out demonstrating. He was 19. Countless numbers of my dad’s colleagues were executed, jailed and tortured. Then the Iran-Iraq war happened, and all our family was in Iran. But Dad made a huge effort to hide the bad stuff from us.

Even before we got the news that there was a plot to assassinate my dad [in 1984], people were warning him not to play with the regime. He was such a threat because he was so popular. At the time I wanted him to stop writing and making the ayatollah angry. I thought he was selfish; I didn’t understand why he was putting our lives at risk. Five years ago, Dad had a heart attack, and needed bypass surgery. We said: “Even if he dies, at least they didn’t get him.” Seeing him to a natural death would be a victory over the regime. He says he can’t go back to Iran, that London is his home now. I’d love to go there, but if I went, they could keep me there, and I might not see my son for months, or they could pinpoint jokes I’ve done about the mullahs.

My dad can meet somebody and know straight away what makes them tick. He’s a force of nature. He’s a phenomenal chess player. And he’s very good at maths, too — and joke-telling is a mathematical skill. I’ve never seen anyone create the pathos on stage that he can.

I went to see him on stage in Los Angeles, and I saw how he weaves stories into his act, and then in the last 10 minutes it was all machinegun-fire jokes. I thought: “I can’t compete with that.”

When I had my first boyfriend, at 15, I couldn’t tell my mum, but I could tell my dad. He was my ally. I know he thinks I don’t like being criticised. But he’s never had a bad review. He performs to the Iranian diaspora who know him and love him — not in pubs and clubs for strangers, like me. I’ll never have the universal love he has. But

I think he’s glad I perform for a mainstream British audience, rather than being marginalised.

At first there was pressure from him on me to do political material and to be a satirist. It was: “I can’t believe you’re doing trite topics like relationships.” Now he’s proud I’ve found my voice. He’s wise. I was writing a book, doing stand-up and I had a new-born baby. It was proper mental. Dad said it was okay to slow down. He’s kept me sane.

Neither of us likes being told what to do, and we both have a temper. But when it comes to the bigger issues and seeing the good in people, we’re on the same page.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can make people laugh - it's wonderful
Known for her intelligent stand-up, Shappi Khorsandi brings her unique take on life to the Thames Valley next week. Phil Creighton finds out why she loves making you chuckle
By Phil Creighton
January 28, 2010

Shappi Khorsandi is looking forward to performing in the Thames Valley next week. Not just because she’s promising to make you laugh because it will make her happy too. “I get a joy out of making people laugh,” she says. “It cheers a lot of people up. And it cheers me up, to be honest. Whatever is going on in my life I can go on stage and be silly and make people laugh for an hour – it’s a wonderful thing.”

You’ll probably have seen the 36-year-old comic performing stand-up on programmes like Live At The Apollo or guesting on panel shows as diverse as Question Time to Have I Got News For You, but it’s performing live shows that she really enjoys. She’s known for her political humour and her Iranian background – the family fled the country in 1976 after her father published a satirical magazine which was critical of the ruling regime – which in a way pigeonholes her. Indeed, listen to her stand-up and it’s not long before she manages to make light of serious matters, with a deft touch and hilarious punchlines. Watch one of her performances and, between the laughs, you’ll get to learn something in the process.

So what does she make of people like Michael McIntyre who seem to just want to keep us amused without making us think? “Oh, he’s going to be a national treasure,” she says of her fellow Apollo performer. “I think he’s brilliant. I’m a big fan. Comedy, like any other form of performance has all sorts of different elements to it,” she continues. “It would be dreadful if we were all social commentary comedians.” And there’s just a hint that Shappi would prefer not to be typecast as that Iranian comic: “Even if you mention anything in the news or not in the news you’re a political comedian and that says something about our society at the moment.”

She’ll bring her current tour to South Hill Park in Bracknell next Thursday; the following evening she’ll appear at the Kenton Theatre in Henley. The first has sold out, the second not far off it – it’s clear that she’s popular. Interviewing the 36-year-old, it’s immediately clear why. Friendly, warm and unfailingly positive, she is enthusiastic about life. On mentioning that she’s coming to Henley, she immediately chips in. “I love Henley” and then chatters happily about her friend who lives there.

As she makes more appearances on TV and people read her books, her star has been rising and her fan base increasing. She says she’s looking forward to meeting them. “In the past year I’ve had a book out and people have asked to be signed and people wait around to say hello to me,” she explains. “It’s absolutely lovely because it does get lonely out there on the road.”

The book, A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English, came out last July to critical acclaim. Did Shappi find it tough to write? “It difficult in that I wrote it in the first year of my son’s life,” she says. “It was really tough to look after a new one and write a book. I wanted to write it at that time because it would come out for the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution and I thought it would be a nice way to mark that anniversary. I’d love to write another one but we shall see.”

Shappi’s father is a comic and her grandad is thought to have written a satirical poem. Family get togethers must have been dull? “They’re great fun,” she she says, politely setting me straight on her grandfather. “I never met him – he died when I was six. He was a farm labourer but we do know that he wrote poetry. As for my dad being a comic and me sort of following in his footsteps. It’s kind of the same … I know friends whose parents were a doctor and they become a doctor, you sort of grow up around something and it becomes normal to you and become the natural thing to do to follow it,” she continues. “At family dinner parties we were dragged out and asked to perform and we knew we definitely got approval if we made people laugh.”

Indeed, this is a strong memory. Writing for BBC News in 2006 she recalled: “Humour is such a huge part of my family culture – I was praised more for making people laugh than for good grades.” Her son, now a toddler, could follow in her footsteps too if Shappi has her way. “I quite like the idea of him being a showbiz kid,” she confesses. “Charlie Chaplin was the son of two mediocre vaudeville performers and he became Charlie Chaplin – so I wonder if my son will become Charlie Chaplin?”

She spends as much time as she can with her son. “I had a child relatively late in life and I spend every single minute I can with him,” she says. He’s there playing happily in the background as we talk and she’s full of praise for him. It also means that she is careful about what she does. “You’ve got to be hyper organised which doesn’t come naturally to me,” Shappi admits. “You have to make choices really. Stuff that takes me all over the country I don’t do.”

So, finally, why should people come and see Shappi on one of her few tour dates this year? She laughs at the question and pauses for a moment. “There’s no reason at all they should but, if they’d like to, they’ll have a great time.”
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PostPosted: Sat May 08, 2010 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Love handles get my vote
To mark Election Day, we speak to fiery British Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi to hear her views on everything from the X-Factorisation of politics to single mums and pasty cellulite.
By Claire O’Boyle

Like most of the country, comic Shappi Khorsandi has been gripped by election fever for weeks. She’s seen the debates, read the papers and cringed her way through the gaffes. But as well as following the ups and downs of all the parties Shappi, one of the fastest-rising stars on the British comedy circuit, has been getting on with life. She’s a single mum to beloved son Cassius, two, is going through a divorce as we speak and is frantically keeping up with her non-stop schedule as a stand-up comedienne. So she’s bound to have a few opinions.

Come on, Shappi, get it off your chest…

“This is the first time I’ve been single since I was 22, I’m 36 now, so that’s a long time! I was a serial monogamist with lots of overlapping in between. I’ve never had a period of being single in all that time, so this is it for me. The rules of dating and pulling have changed now. When you’re 22 and you want to pull you just get drunk and fall on someone. But at 36, that’s looked down on, especially in playgroup!

Being in relationships all that time was really secure, but it was kind of numbing too. The only experience I have of dating is from years ago when you weren’t thinking long-term. If someone was cute but a bit of a prat you didn’t really mind, but now I have a much lower tolerance for idiots. These days, if a guy hasn’t heard of Iggle Piggle, I’m like ‘What kind of bozo are you?’

I’ve been asked out by a couple of really young guys – like 25! I was impossibly flattered but I couldn’t. I could have a laugh with them but you can’t help but listen to them and think ‘Ah, you’ll grow out of that’. And that’s not sexy for anyone.”

“When I was younger I wasn’t remotely fashionable. I used to get all my clothes in charity shops – and it wasn’t cool vintage stuff – just bad clothes that looked like they were from a charity shop. I didn’t accessorise, I didn’t tailor them to look good, I just wore dreadful crocheted clothes. I’m only 5ft 2in and used to be a size 14-16 so I wanted to hide away. But now I see young women wearing fashionable clothes that show all their bulges and I love it. I think ‘good for you for feeling comfortable enough with your flab to let it all hang out’. I wish I had been that confident at 22.

I say let’s see more pasty, cellulitey love handles hanging over jeans! I love it, it’s really empowering and I wish I’d had their confidence. On the other hand, I am violently against bum cracks. I get terribly upset seeing a big fat bum hanging out of low-slung jeans on girls. Very often I’ll be in a bar trying to enjoy my Tia Maria and coke and see this fat thing that reminds me of what goes on in toilets frankly, and it makes things awkward.”

“Becoming a mum is the end of your old life – face it, get over it, accept it. But it’s the start of the best life ever. It’s like someone taking your heart outside your body and having to live the rest of your life with your heart running around in the world, and it can do stuff like drink and take drugs and cross roads without you. And if anything happens to it, game over. When I had my baby I still had my husband, but we’re divorcing now.

Single mums are bloody heroes. It’s not just how difficult it is physically looking after a baby by yourself, emotionally caring for a baby alone is immense – you have to be mum and dad at the same time. However wonderful my ex-husband is as a really hands-on dad, he’s not the one living with my child. So I have all the joys and all the trials on my own. That’s hard, and having someone to share it all with would help.

When you become a mum, you become a Catholic overnight – I’m constantly filled with guilt!”

“It’s exciting because I just do not know what’s going to happen. I’m terrified that in the polling booth I’ll just go crazy and vote BNP or something mental. It would be one of those really weird and twisted things you could do that no one would ever know about. Some dark little secret you’ll have to carry around with you for the rest of your life. And then you’ll come out and go ‘Yeah, I voted Green’ while you’re dying inside of shame.

The thing about this election I’ll remember is all the glossiness. It’s like we’re becoming American, we want our leaders to be all shiny and perfect and I just don’t buy it. It’s kind of anti-British I think. We’re down to earth people and I hope people won’t be fooled by all this shiny stuff. It’s the X Factorisation of politics I hate, and we’re too smart for it. If I hear another person saying ‘They’re all the same!’ I’ll explode. That’s what people say when they can’t be bothered to think about it. And to put something else on the record – I couldn’t give a toss about any of their wives, or their shoes.”

“I will never understand people who don’t vote. You have this incredible country where people have fought and died to give everybody a fair vote and you can’t get up off your arse to go to the polling station. For all these people who don’t vote and complain about how things are done, I just think ‘What are you moaning about? Shut up.’ I don’t get it.

One thing I personally love is SureStart. It’s the best thing in the world for me and my little boy, and that came from Labour. And stuff like the roads and what’s going on in your own community, it’s all about who you vote for. I’m not giving my right to privacy away, but I’ll tell you I’m a left-winger and I will be voting in that direction.”

“Looking at all these skinny, yummy mummies in the celeb world is strange. I don’t know if it puts pressure on ordinary women to lose baby weight, to me that doesn’t really matter. All I think is that I feel sorry for them because at the time they should be putting their feet up, watching Loose Women and eating doughnuts, their focus is on shifting this weight. RELAX! Just chill out and enjoy time with your newborn, it’s not a competition.

I know for some women their jobs depend on how they look, but I honestly wish they would chill. I’m not going to lie and say I was over the moon with all the weight I put on when I was pregnant. But learning about nutrition is so important – you find out you do need to eat more when you’re breastfeeding and that’s brilliant. But you don’t need to eat more cake.”

Strictly or X Factor?
“Strictly! I would love to be on it, it would make my mother’s dreams come true. She always wishes I did something more ladylike like sing or dance instead of getting changed in pub toilets for comedy gigs.”

Jeans and T-shirt or frock and heels?
“Frock. I didn’t do it enough when I was younger and now I’m making up for lost time.”

Corrie or Easties?
“Oh no! I love Coronation Street. At times I think it should be classified as a comedy because it’s so fantastic in that way. But EastEnders is the nearest thing I’ve got to a football team. Even when it’s rubbish and I can’t bear to look at it, it always comes through for me in the end. I have invested a lot in it emotionally. One of the times in my life I was totally awestruck was when I met the producer Diederick Santer. I’d expected some stout 60-year-old bloke but he was a total dish! I almost fainted at his feet.”

Night in or night out?
“Out. Because I’m single at the moment, so why not?”

Male comics or female comics?
“Not just because I am one, but female definitely. There aren’t many men who can make me laugh as much as I do when I’m out with a gaggle of women. We laugh at hilarious, sophisticated jokes – not just at chocolate bloody willies. So women, yes, definitely.”

Shappi’s autobiography ‘A Beginners Guide to Acting English’ (Ebury Press) is available to buy now in paperback.
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PostPosted: Tue May 18, 2010 10:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

download 9mb mp3

Shappi talking about her new book on the Steve Wright show today (Chris Tarrant is standing in).
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Laughing at life
18th October 2010

Long before the Hammersmith Apollo beckoned, struggling stand-up Shappi Khorsandi made ends meet baring all for art. “I did naked life modelling for years and years,” she explains, with just a whisper of a nervous giggle. “My brother’s girlfriend did it but couldn’t make a class one day, so for some reason I said I’d do it instead. I was quite a chubby young woman then, extremely self-conscious about my body, but my brother said that if I could stand naked in front of strangers, then I could definitely do stand-up.”

It’s an unusual rite of passage, and one mercifully absent from the careers of comedians less easy on the eye (the thought of Jim Davidson slowly undoing the knot in the towelling belt of his bathrobe is a truly harrowing one). And yet there’s a compelling parallel to be found in the Iranian-born, London-raised comic’s work in front of much bigger audiences today. The clothes stay on of course, but her shows have mined unashamedly personal territory, from her family’s flight from Iran following the Islamic revolution to her recent divorce and subsequent single parenthood.

“I am quite Tracey Emin,” the 36-year-old laughs. “But it’s not about getting things off my chest, it’s only that I could think of little else. I would sit down to write jokes that weren’t about divorce, but I couldn’t. There was just no room in my head for anything else.”

The Moon On A Stick, which she brings to the Brighton Comedy Festival on Thursday, explores her rather awkward first steps back into the world of dating, and the recent dissolution of her marriage to fellow stand-up Christian Reilly. But Khorsandi was only too aware for the potential for further hurt when she wrote the material. “None of the content mocks him at all – I think I’m very affectionate. Also, I try not to talk about us too personally, I sort of cartoonise it all. A couple of his very close friends came to watch the show to sieve through it. I asked them to tell me honestly if they thought any of it was mean and they said ‘absolutely not’.”

A cursory glance at the reviews for Moon On A Stick reveals that Khorsandi’s knack for finding humour in situations to which her audiences relate has only boosted an already blossoming popularity. It might seem she’s sprung to the stage fully-formed, with guest spots on Michael McIntyre’s showcase Comedy Roadshow, but there was a decade-long slog before Khorsandi “got a sniff of TV”. The situation proved particularly mystifying to her father Hadi Khorsandi, who found fame and recognition as a satirist and comedian in his native Iran as a young man (before his criticism of the regime in the wake of the Islamic revolution prompted a hasty move to London for he and his young family). “My dad’s the most fearless person I know, and he didn’t really understand why it took me so long to get anywhere with stand-up. He doesn’t suffer with the nerves and self-doubt I do, and I’d been doing stand-up for about two seconds when he saw a comedy show on TV and said: ‘Why aren’t you hosting that then?’.”

Khorsandi talks with pride and affection for her family; small wonder when one considers they were able to keep things together and make light of living in constant fear of Hadi’s assassination. She wrote a moving memoir of the experiences, A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English, that detailed her teenage struggle with bulimia and the strain on the family without straying into mawkishness or self-pity, but she’s keen to look forward from this point on. “I feel like I’ve put that time in print now, and I’m really not interested in talking about that stuff in my stand-up at the moment. I’m not saying it’ll be like that forever, it’s just that if I hear myself saying ‘My dad’s a satirist’ one more time I think I might go round and throttle him!”

Now very much established in the notoriously fickle world of stand-up, Khorsandi has played in front of 15,000 at the capital’s O2, and may soon be big enough as a comic that she no longer has to answer questions about what it’s like being a female one. “I’m only just realising and enjoying and appreciating that things have gone well. Everything for me came in one big whoosh: the book deal, TV comedy and the arrival of my baby all came in the same year, so it was pretty manic and I felt like I didn’t breathe for two years. When I started breathing again, I began going through a divorce, and it’s only now that I’m able to go: ‘Do you know what? It’s all right’.”

The leap in her profile has meant Khorsandi has started to get spotted out and about (“people think they know you from school”), but the most significant boon has been the chance to give vent to her political feelings on programmes like Question Time. “It is the most petrifiying thing ever – it shaved years off my life. If you have a very strong opinion about something, you really need to have your arguments prepared before you go on.”

And motherhood, it seems, isn’t terribly conducive to revision. “I did [comedy panel show] 8 Out Of 10 Cats without having a minute to think about it and I turned up with an Iggle Piggle sticker stuck to my leg … I felt like such a breastfeeding mum. They were asking me about Jamie Oliver and I was wondering if I’d expressed enough milk for my kid before I left the house.”

Maternal panics aside, Khorsandi has built up her scrapbook with appearances on Sport Relief (where she reprised a childhood bedroom routine in dancing along to Toni Basil’s Hey Mickey) and her own Radio 4 show Shappi Talk, which sees her chatting frankly about growing up in a multicultural family. She hopes to do more radio, and says she has one eye firmly fixed on a future in broadcasting. “I do think about what’s going to become of me when I’m in my 50s and 60s – I want to be able to write and work in radio rather than travelling around in planes and trains all the time!”

Not all of the offers have been quite so appealing; she’s had enquiries from the makers of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of here who’d hoped to tempt her into the Australian jungle to gorge on rodents. “I think life’s too short to spend that kind of time away from my boy,” she says, adding that as things are, she’s fitting in touring around her three-year-old. I’m a working mum as it is, and if I’m doing something that’s going to take me away for weeks at a time, it’s just not what life’s about, is it?”

* Shappi Khorsandi brings Moon On A Stick to Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Thursday.
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 8:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Once upon a life: Shappi Khorsandi
As a misfit, Shappi Khorsandi's school days were a misery. At home, however, she found happiness and a love a birds with her best friend Naira. Then tragedy struck…
Shappi Khorsandi
The Observer,
14 November 2010

My first day at secondary school and I had come prepared for a game of French elastic. My mum had even found a shop which sold the elastic in red so that was bound to win me even more new friends. Blissfully unaware that my thick, black toilet-brush hair, my chubby legs and my bubbly posh voice were any kind of barrier to popularity in a state comprehensive, I bounced into my new school.

Almost immediately I realised I was to keep the elastic deep in my bag. I was never to play French elastic again. The other children looked much older than 12. The girls had make-up on and permed hair. Their legs were shaved and the uniform they wore was not from the shop recommended in the letter sent by the school. They spoke confidently to boys and frequently found reasons to link arms and cackle wildly.

Other children from my primary school had transformed themselves over the summer holidays. They spoke a little cockney, they had gel in their hair and none of them, not a single one, asked another first year if they wanted to play "it" at playtime. Despite coming from a very cosy primary school and all knowing each other since we were five, my former friends now gave me a wide berth. Association with my unfashionable clothes, unruly hair and lack of street smarts would have been social suicide. So, although they didn't join in with shouts of "Oi! Mophead!" or "Look! It's The Incredible Bulk!", they severed all ties.

There was a cluster of us misfits who clung to each other like shipwreck survivors to a plank of wood. These weren't friendships. We hung around together, ate lunch together because there was safety in numbers. When one of us was singled out and hounded like a lone gazelle, the rest would turn away, glad that, for now, it wasn't us.

Waiting in the line for lunch one day, one of the brashest of the girls decided it was my turn. "Whatchoolookin' at?" was the 80s battle cry, then in a flash my hair was in a fist which was leading my head hard and fast into a metal locker. What this girl did not know about me, and was about to discover, was that I grew up scrapping with my older brother. You wouldn't have known to look at me, but I could fight.

Before even I knew it, it was her head against the locker. It seemed like the whole school circled us shrieking, "FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!" and although I'd pinned her down and was clearly winning, I was at a loss as to what to do next. My brother and I never carried on hitting once the other was down. I was relieved to feel a teacher's hand on the scruff of my neck dragging me off.

I didn't tell my parents what went on at school that day, or how much I hated it. At that time, my parents were still reeling from an assassination plot to kill my father. He was a humorist and had published a satirical newspaper which criticised the regime in Iran. A year or so earlier, we'd had to go into hiding under Scotland Yard protection and although the plot to shoot my father was unsuccessful, it left our family in a state of silent terror. I did not want to add to their worries by telling them I was not coping at my new school.

When I got home, my older brother asked me to go with him to his new friend Zaffer's house: "He's got a sister your age," he told me. "She keeps budgies in her bedroom." Badly needing to try and forget about school the next day, I walked with my brother to their house, which was only four doors down from ours.

Zaffer's sister, Naira, wasn't like the girls from my school. She was pretty and kind and in her room I felt peaceful and calm. We sat playing with her tame budgies and talked. I'd never been able to talk to anyone else my own age the way I talked to her. I told her about the fight. "They must be really unhappy to behave like that," she said.

Things became easier at school, but I still felt my chest tighten when the name calling started, but now I had a sanctuary after school with my new, gentle friend. My parents allowed me to keep pigeons in our garage. Naira and I shared a love of birds and we looked after each other's pets. I had made my first firm friendship.

That spring, my grandmother came to live with us. While we were at school, she liked to sit at the window and watch the comings and goings in our street. One Monday afternoon, I came home to find my grandmother distressed. "I saw a coffin being brought out of a house down the road, I think it was your friend's house." A very old lady lived in the downstairs flat of Naira's home, which was a Victorian conversion like ours. Not for a moment did I imagine it would be anyone other than the old lady who had died. "I'll go round and ask Naira what happened," I said.

There was a man in Naira's front garden clearing away some rubble from the building work. There was a strangeness surrounding the house. I went to ring Naira's doorbell. They lived on the third floor and I glanced up at her little window. It was open, which surprised me as she always kept it shut because of the birds.

"There's no one in, love," the man told me as my finger reached for the buzzer. "Oh." The strangeness grew heavier with the tone of his voice. "What happened here today?" I asked. "Young girl's funeral. Terrible. She fell out of her bedroom window. She was only about 12 or 13." I hadn't known anyone my age who had died before.

Over the next few days as our parents tried to console us, all I thought was that Naira was so, well, just so nice. How could someone that nice die, and in such a way? My brother and I often played "dares" on the window and dangled limbs out to get the other one to shriek, but that wasn't the sort of thing Naira did.

I didn't want to, but my parents convinced me I had to visit Naira's mother. And so we did. My brother and I solemnly walked to the house we'd ran to to play so many times, to give our condolences in person to Naira's mother. She was Indian and beautiful and had the smallest waist I'd ever seen. She was gentle and calm like Naira and held my brother and I to her and thanked us for coming and stroked our faces and kissed our cheeks and told us we were very precious. She didn't cry, she sat with us and brought us tea and sweets. I told her I thought Naira would make a very good angel and hoped it was the right thing to say.

When I went back to school, a few of the kids who had heard that my friend died would do a zombie walk when they saw me coming. I didn't care. From the moment I heard Naira was dead, from that very second, I was filled with a terror that my brother might be taken from me as suddenly. It was the beginning of the obsessive-compulsive behaviour which was to plague me for decades into my adulthood. I began muttering mantras under my breath, believing if I didn't, great harm would come to my family. These mantras became longer and more complicated and would include my having to look at certain points as I said them. My days revolved around lots of little rituals which had to be performed exactly right or else some calamity would befall us.

As I tumbled through my teenage years, I learned to hide my obsessive behaviour, but my school work suffered. Who can concentrate for long enough to write an essay when so many things need to be touched, turned, wiped or licked?

Somehow or other, however, I got an A for my English A-level. I had never got an A for anything before, always scraping by (I also had dyslexia which wasn't diagnosed until adulthood). When I saw my A grade, something changed in the way I saw my world. It was the first time I realised I was not just "Shappi the blob", as my French teacher once called me. My career in stand-up comedy has since taken me places and given me experiences that I only imagined in my wildest dreams. But nothing has ever been quite like that moment when I got my A-level results and realised there was a place for me in this world after all.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2011 11:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

'I came home and thought: That’s it. They've blown up my dad'
Teddy Jamieson
21 Mar 2011
The Herald

Shappi Khorsandi’s dog has taken rather a liking to the photographer. We are in the comedian’s house in Barnes in south-west London (she likes to think of it as still part of west London, the part of London where she grew up, but I think Khorsandi might be slightly deluding herself) and every chance Benji gets he’s clasped his front paws around the snapper’s leg and is, to be perfectly blunt, humping it. Shappi – nobody calls by her real name, Shaparak – has warned us this might happen but right now she’s in the kitchen making us pasta because we’ve come a long way to talk to her, and tea and biscuits don’t seem quite enough. The photographer is too polite to say anything and I’m pretending the assault isn’t actually happening.

Good manners, pasta sauce from a bottle and a kindness to animals that stretches far enough not to give a randy pet a kick in the linguine when he behaves inappropriately. How frightfully British of us all, you might say. Or as British as a Scottish photographer, an Irish writer (the northern variety) and an Iranian-born comedian get. Which, I suppose, is, in itself, a definition of Britishness, isn’t it? A polyglot mix of things.

“Don’t whine,” Khorsandi pleads as she finally locks Benji away in the cage where he prefers to sleep, before moving her son Cassius’s toys and sitting on the floor to talk. About Britishness among other things. Other things like political correctness, being a daddy’s girl, her knack of finding boyfriends in Edinburgh, casual racism in the 1970s (which was, at the time, also frightfully British), bulimia and life after divorce. (“When my son’s with his dad I tend to be very hungover, I’ll be honest with you,” she admits at one point when she struggles to understand my accent. “You’re Irish? Of course you’re Irish. I thought you were Nigerian.”)

In person Khorsandi is much as she appears on TV in all those Saturday stand-up shows and comedy vox pop programmes – pretty, petite, good at accents (in our time together she offers a spot-on Nigerian, a la-di-da Englishwoman and a very Jean Brodie Edinburgh). She is also funny. And Iranian, as has already been established. Well, Iranian-ish. Her family moved to London when she was three and – barring one three-month period when Khorsandi was four-and-a-half – has never been back. The Ayatollah Khomeni wasn’t too keen on Khorsandi’s father. Did she feel English as a child? “We felt English because our friends were, but at home everything was so Iranian.” Actually, she says, “I didn’t feel properly English until I had a half-English child. And now as I get older I think: ‘Ooh, who cares?’ I don’t care any more. Some Iranians really want you to feel Iranian and some English people get so offended if you suggest you feel Iranian.” Now, she says, she thinks of herself as a Londoner first and foremost.

And as a comedian. She knew she wanted to be a comedian since the age of three. “I didn’t know what a comedian was,” she admits, “but I knew I liked to make people laugh. And then I suddenly got shy and awkward and self-conscious.” It would take her the best part of three decades to overcome that.

She has all the usual tales of dying on stage to tell. She remembers getting a gig at the Glastonbury festival once. She lied to the promoters and told them she had a half-hour set. In reality she had about five minutes’ worth of material. At Glastonbury she lasted about 11 minutes, “and it was such a horrific experience that I didn’t touch stand-up again for two years”. So why did she keep going back to it? “I don’t know. It was my kind of Yellow Brick Road. I’m going to keep following it. I just had absolute belief that it would work eventually. I had a lot of issues in my 20s with eating disorders and stuff. It really held me down in a bit of a fog. Well, a lot of a fog. That had a massive part to play in my not really progressing, I think.”

Even as recently as 2003 her Edinburgh Fringe show was, she says, a bit of a disaster. “My bulimia was at its most rampant. I should have been lying in a white room with soft music playing, not at the Edinburgh festival. Eventually, in 2006, I wrote a show called Asylum Speaker and things started to click for me then. I was in recovery and I was just a lot more … awake. Yeah. I woke up, really. It took me a long time. I still doze off now and then.”

She grew up loving Richard Pryor more than Les Dawson but there is something very, yes, English about her approach to comedy, I think. On stage she’ll talk about the minor things that annoy her as much as about identity politics. “What’s important is making people laugh,” she says. “That first and foremost. I don’t regard stand-up as a means to randomly express my views on things because people only tend to laugh if they agree with you. I don’t think I ever consciously think, ‘Right, I didn’t like the war in Iraq. I’m going to talk about it on stage.’ I get annoyed about people’s dogs pooing in the park so I’ll write a joke about that. Some things might be more mundane and some may be more political, it’s never conscious. Perhaps it should be.”

Perhaps it should. And not just because I think she’s at her funniest when she is at her most political (she has a great line on explaining the difference between Iran and Iraq to Americans: “We’re the ones who have got weapons of mass destruction”). I sometimes think her more mundane stuff takes away something from the incendiary material she has at her fingertips. Then again, that’s maybe exactly why she does it. Because it’s an assertion of normality. She couldn’t always claim that normal was normal in the past.

The Khorsandis – mum, dad, Shappi and older brother Peyvand – moved from Tehran to London in 1976 when the Shah was still in power. Her father, Hadi Khorsandi, had already made his reputation by then. His satirical columns in the Iranian press had made him famous. As it turns out, religious fundamentalists don’t have a lot of time for satire.

It was meant to be a short stay in London. Her father even returned to Iran in 1979 after the revolution – a revolution that had seen the death of her 19-year-old uncle – and was lucky to escape with his life. The Khorsandis were stuck in the capital. “It’s the Iranian new year this month,” says Khorsandi, “and every Iranian new year we go, ‘Inshallah, we’ll all be in Iran next year.’ We all say it now, but I certainly don’t mean it. Unless it’s for a visit.”

Not that her new home can have seemed much more accommodating when she first arrived. In London her parents would get called “Paki” to their faces. “That word freezes my heart still,” she says. It’s the sense of shame she remembers. “If you felt people were being racist to you, you didn’t even tell one another. There was something really shameful about being called a Paki.

“What’s wonderful now is that it’s become unacceptable. That’s why I love political correctness. That kind of hurt is really hard to undo and that’s why I get a bit peeved sometimes when some people criticise me and say, ‘She talks a lot about race in her comedy.’ Of course I do.”

The temptation is to trace everything she is and does back to her childhood, to her relationship with her father, and his relationship with his homeland in turn. If you read her fine memoir A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English it is clear she is rather fond of her father. Was Khorsandi a daddy’s girl? “Absolutely,” she replies. “My dad’s a phenomenally charismatic person and he was very well known in Iran. And so when we moved to England he was well known in the Iranian community. It was quite tough as a child to get his attention. He was very busy. If he wasn’t partying he was writing. It’s still very hard to get my dad’s attention. He’s a flibberty-gibbet. And the way to get my dad’s attention as kids was to be funny. So I don’t think it’s an accident that doing stand-up makes me feel good, makes me feel present and noticed, you know.”

Her memories of childhood are memories of reading a book behind the sofa at smoky parties, falling asleep while all the adults were drinking and dancing and making merry. “I loved that. I wish my son had it but I’m just much more English in my upbringing. ‘Good God, dinner at nine for a child? No, he eats at six.’ Which I think makes for a calmer upbringing. My upbringing was incredibly chaotic.”

She went to a tough school where teaching was more about crowd control, she says, than actual learning. Nobody picked up that she was dyslexic. “I do feel bitter about my education. I feel I was a kid who would have loved to have learned more and gone to a better university. I didn’t stand a chance. I really didn’t. And my parents were so preoccupied with what was going on in Iran.” What was going on was a war with Iraq. “Their friends and parents and brothers and sisters were having bombs dropped on their heads every day.”

One night while waiting for Grange Hill to come on, the teenage Shappi Khorsandi picked up the phone to be told that her daddy was “a bastard”, before the voice added: “Death to your bastard father.” Then on a Saturday morning the phone rang again and when she picked it up another man told her he was going to kill her father.

“The job of terrorists is to instil terror in you, lasting terror,” she says now. “Killing you is almost by the by. After that we were terrified. If any of us were a minute late home we would assume the worst. I came home one day and there was a car like my dad’s car on fire and I thought, ‘That’s it. They’ve blown him up while I was at school.’ It was just someone’s car that had overheated.” What she couldn’t understand was why her father kept writing, kept saying things that upset “murderous people”. “I’ve always gone out of my way to not make people want to kill me and yet it felt like he was going for it.”

The thing about fear is how it hangs around, sometimes in hiding, just waiting for an excuse to rear up again. When the July 7 bombings happened in London in 2005, Khorsandi remembers trying to get hold of her brother. After two hours of trying to phone his work she got through only to be told he hadn’t made it in.

“My stomach caught fire. That’s the best way I can describe it. I had to go to hospital and I ended up having a stomach ulcer.” Thankfully, Peyvand was fine, but it was a reminder of how close death had seemed for so long. Plenty of people were trying to get in touch with their loved ones that day but because that fear had always been there I was like, ‘Well, of course, it’s happened.’” Is it too pat to say the “fog” she experienced during her 20s was a reaction to the chaos and fear of her teens? “I don’t know. It’s so hard to pinpoint why things like addictions happen.”

But she reckons it had more to do with a childhood where food was always available and Iranian friends were always keen to talk about her weight. “That wasn’t in my English culture,” she says. “It used to always hurt me. I look back at my photos and I wasn’t even fat.” "Oh God," she says suddenly. “All the interviews I do end up getting so serious. Nobody’s going to want to come to my show.”

They should, because at her best she’s been able to translate these experiences into comedy. I think it’s fair to say she is proud she has made it as a comedian. It was what her father – who now does stand-up himself, in Farsi, to huge crowds around the world – wanted. Well, that and a grandchild. And she’s given him both. “I’ve done my jobs,” she says. “I swore to myself when I was 10 that I would work in showbusiness, no matter what. I remember very vividly being a child and thoroughly loving being a child and I think I’ve done really well by my 10-year-old self. I feel like I promised her something and I’ve kept my promise. That’s the biggest reward for me.”

She’d like to write another book. There are so many stories left to tell, she says. Maybe she could do a sitcom. But first off she has to get writing. After a visit to Glasgow next week she has a new Edinburgh show to write. She tells me she has met all her boyfriends and husbands in Edinburgh.

When she split up from her husband (“He’s a comedian too,” she says on stage, “you won’t have heard of him”) she met her current beau, Matthew, an Australian, in the Scottish capital. “It’s a very romantic place. I’m hoping that I won’t change men again in Edinburgh. But I do think lovely things happen at the festival. Maybe he’ll propose.”

It’s time for her close-up. She gets changed into a cocktail dress and begins to pose for the camera. She chats to the photographer, who still hasn’t mentioned the canine assault, talks about Cassius, her boy, who she’ll have to pick up from nursery soon (“Nothing made me feel as grown up as having sole responsibility for another human being,” she says). Benji begins to whine. Just another Thursday afternoon in Barnes. It’s all very normal, isn’t it? And what’s wrong with that? Maybe Shappi Khorsandi deserves a bit of normality.

An Evening With Shappi Khorsandi takes place at the Garage, Glasgow, on Thursday at 8pm, as part of the Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 08, 2012 6:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Having a hoot: A comedian's view of the Edinburgh Festival, the UK's greatest party
Shappi Khorsandi
8 July 2012

I love the Edinburgh Festival – because it means that I get to sleep in the same bed for a whole month! Comedians travel around so much that being based in Edinburgh for the entire festival makes you feel as if you've got a proper home. I've been performing at the Edinburgh Festival for years. I was even there when I was heavily pregnant, back in 2007. I gave birth on September 13, but I was at the festival performing right until the end of August.

For comedians, Edinburgh is where you turn up to say: 'Ta-rah – this is what I'm up to now!' You really have to up your game. Though I've been doing stand-up for 13 years I feel as if I've just started. That feeling of being a beginner is always intensified by the festival, because each time you go there you effectively have a clean slate with your new show. The first time I went, I was a finalist in the BBC New Comedy Awards and I did a show with Russell Brand, who just like me was an unknown at the time.

I discovered that Edinburgh was an absolute adult playground. I could not believe the amount of fun to be had there. You can spend all day watching shows and then all night partying, and that, to me, is still a massive draw. Going to Edinburgh is not just about my own show – I go up there to see what everyone else is up to. And it's not only about stand-up; you can see every variety of comedy – there are plenty of left-field acts from all over the world. It's just the most exciting place to be. One brilliant club is The Stand. It's open throughout the year and I think it's the favourite venue for most comedians to play.

Beyond the shows, I like to get out and about around the city. Edinburgh is a city I've been to many times outside of the festival, for gigs, holidays and Hogmanay. Every year I make a pilgrimage up to the top of Arthur's Seat, the hill in the city centre. I love eating at The Witchery, which is one of the most romantic restaurants I've been to as well as being a fine boutique hotel. I also love the late-night drinking dens – there's always somewhere to go and get a drink at four o'clock in the morning, if you so wish, at any time of the year.

The one drawback with the festival taking place through most of August, and with the build-up beforehand, is that it plays havoc with my holiday plans. People will ask 'Why don't we go off on holiday in July?' and I'll have to say: 'I can't possibly go on holiday then – I've got Edinburgh to prepare for!' Then this year I thought: 'Right, the minute that Edinburgh's over, I'm going to fly off somewhere with my son.' I had completely forgotten he starts school for the first time in September – but that's how disorganised I am.

My Edinburgh show this year is already all set. It's called Dirty Looks And Hopscotch. It's a sort of journey from girlhood through to womanhood, and explores various attitudes to sex. I've never talked about sex in my shows before. I feel evangelical about Edinburgh. It's the world's biggest arts festival. Even if you just sit around one of the venues, having a drink, the atmosphere is electric. It's an amazing place where you can go and see everything from the most experimental piece to the biggest blockbuster show. You discover performers or performances that you never even imagined before.

Find out more about Shappi's Edinburgh show at
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