What’s On previews Omid Djalili Dubai show, at Music Hall, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, The Palm, a very big moment for stand-up comedy in Dubai.
It’s been a long time since Omid Djalili opened a show with a belly dance and an exaggerated Arabic accent. Sure, he used to amp up a few stereotypes for effect, before shocking his audience by breaking out his well-to-do London accent for a riff on racial stereotypes, but these days the comic is far too well known in the UK for that set up to work.
In fact, if you’re going to see Djalili playing to his Persian heritage any time soon it’ll likely be on the big screen, with Hollywood casting agents having embraced him as their go-to ‘middle aged man of Middle Eastern origin’.
But despite a list of film credits that runs the gamut from the Oscar-winning Gladiator with Russell Crowe to the less critically-acclaimed Sex And The City 2, the stage remains Djalili’s natural habitat.
The 49-year-old, who was born in Kensington in London and has visited his parents’ homeland just once aged six, says the theatrical mannerisms of his family members rubbed off on him from an early age. “I guess that’s part of my upbringing. We’re very bold and brash and we want things to happen quickly. Entertain me! Quick, do a dance, sing a song, tell a joke, tell a joke again.”
After studying theatre and English at university in Northern Ireland, the young Djalili tried his hand at serious acting before a visit to London institution The Comedy Store in 1994 changed his ambitions.
When his first attempt at stand up – an 18-minute show at the Edinburgh Festival that saw most of his audience ask for their money back – was less than successful, the undeterred Omid wrote to every comedy club in Britain begging for a shot. Within three years he became a headline act.
He’s barely looked back since, regularly selling out month-long runs in the Scottish capital and touring the world with his uniquely silly act. But despite the acclaim, Djalili admits it’s taken a while for him to be seen simply as a comic, rather than a Middle Eastern comic.
“I felt before that I had to be a bridge between east and west,” he explains. “Now, I’m not so bothered by that. I talk about the things that affect me: relationships, equality between men and women, the impact of celebrity on society, the impact of celebrity on my own life, getting older. These are universal things that affect me that have nothing to do with politics. My act has become more personable.”
Music Hall, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, The Palm, Dubai, 7pm, Dhs195. Tel: (056) 2708670. Taxi: The Palm, west crescent. themusichall.com