Interview: Shappi Khorsandi
PUBLISHED: 13:14 15 January 2012
As she wound up her recent tour with three shows at the Norwich Playhouse, NICHOLA BRUNELLI caught up with Shappi Khorsandi to talk about family, women and men.
Shappi Khorsandi returned to Norwich just before Christmas for a three-night run which completed her tour Me And My Brother In Our Pants, Holding Hands.
The show, which played to sold-out houses, was based on a photo of her brother, Peyvand, and herself holding hands in a park.
She described the tour as a tribute to siblinghood. However, as the tour progressed a few tweaks were made here and there and by the end the tour blossomed into a show which touched on the topics of family and parenthood too.
Shappi comes from a family of comedians and often makes a joke about how she was pushed into comedy by her parents. There is an element of truth in the joke.
In 1976 Shappi’s family packed up and moved from Iran to London for a short stay. When her father returned to Iran for a happy reunion with his friends they warned him that a “murderous crowd” was gathering to kill him because of his opposition to the Ayatollah.
Shappi grew up in an Ealing flat where a constant stream of actors, diplomats and friends from Iran turned life into a permanent party; where Shappi and Peyvand were part of the entertainment with Peyvand telling jokes and Shappi imitating Margaret Thatcher’s commanding tones.
“Every family has its own traditions and I don’t think it is an accident that children of doctors become doctors. In my family, the way to get my father’s attention was to make him laugh. There were always parties taking place and in Iran you are actively encouraged to be a show off, to be funny. It would not surprise me if my son went into show business.”
Her four-year-old son often accompanies her on her tours and her first night at Norwich saw a special guest appearance from him. He sang a song for the audience and then returned back stage.
Comedy appears to run in the family; her brother is also a comedian and he supported her on her last tour as her warm up act.
This tour was in part about her brother. She thought it was a bit odd to have him as a support act, so she decided to warm it up herself by talking to the audience and playing a few games with them. After the interval ‘big Shappi’ would come on and she would throw herself into the main part of her gig.
On a comedy circuit largely dominated by men, the number of successful female comedians has long been seen as an issue with it often being the case that the woman is seen first and then the profession second. When asked, Shappi describes it as a battle that women can only fight individually.
“There is a reason that Margret Thatcher had to take elocution lessons to deepen her voice so she would be taken more seriously. Stand up is about being in control and having to deal with crowds, and naturally high, female voices can struggle with that task, but it is something to work on and get over. I see female comedy opening as many doors as it closes. You have to be able to move on, otherwise you are running around chasing your tale, complaining.”
Female comedy used to be a lot about boyfriends and cake. However, now it is a lot about the women speaking their minds about politics and the world in general.
“When I was 23 it was all about boys and getting drunk, because that is what I did. It takes a while to find yourself, getting less interested in boyfriends but we are all getting more broadminded. I am single now and I enjoy talking about dating again. In stand-up you can say whatever you like and people may get in a huff with you about it but you are expressing yourself.”
In previous gigs Shappi has talked about her childhood and the difficulty of being exiled from Iran and growing up in a country where people were prejudice to those from other countries.
This, however, does not always go down well with audiences. “I’m clearly left wing in my views and that has come across in my comedy which some people like; some don’t.”
The successful three-night Playhouse run was Shappi’s third visit to Norwich and she always says how she loves it but doesn’t have much time to look around the city.
“When I stay over night in a city I tend to sleep. I have a four year old son and I like having the chance to catch up. However I do like to go visit the independent shops and the book stores.”
The tour finished on December 10 but she has no plans to rest. She wants to throw herself back into her work by focusing on her new tour. “I have waited too long for my career to take off that I don’t bother with breaks. You have a break when you’re dead.”
Shappi is blossoming into a great and brave comedian who doesn’t take it for granted. “I see it as a job I would do for free.”
After the show many people would greet her with cards of well wishing and requests for photos as she sat in the Playhouse bar. At the end of the show she encouraged the audience to come and say hello.
She was touched when people came up to her saying they immediately called their siblings, who live in other countries.
n Shappi’s autobiography Shappi Khorsandi A Beginners Guide To Acting English is published by Ebury Press, priced £7.99.