Omid Djalili hopes 16-month UK tour comprising 114 gigs – including two shows at South Mill Arts in Bishop's Stortford – will be a winning combination
Omid Djalili has thrown himself into bringing a stand-up show back to live audiences after months of inactivity.
The comedian has lined up 114 gigs across the UK in an epic 16-month tour entitled The Good Times – including two shows at Bishop's Stortford's South Mill Arts centre on Saturday (July 10).
And the 55-year-old, who has gained legendary status for his stand-up shows and built a parallel career in Hollywood films, TV and the West End stage, cannot wait.
"When you feel you've got something to say, you want as many people as possible to see it," he told the Indie.
Omid – whose movie credits include The Mummy, Gladiator, The Infidel and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – felt the enforced break, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was not the worst thing in the world.
"Every comedian needs time to stop," he said, revealing that in 2000, after working flat out including film roles in Notting Hill and The World Is Not Enough, he lost his voice. The time away from the limelight gave him time to think about where he was going.
"It was an act tailored to the comedy clubs, but it was a different thing to step up to the big theatres," he said.
There was also a certain amount of innovation required doing Zoom gigs during the pandemic, which he said he wasn't a big fan of. One scenario he used with an online audience was to pop to his bathroom at home and flush the toilet, revealing that's where his career was going.
In general it was an unsatisfactory experience, apart from one gig to "a bunch of people in Geneva". He said: "They were spread out all over Europe and seemed to be more focused."
Known for his biting satire on everything from politics to religion, Omid will be broaching the subject of Covid-19, on which he will be talking about "the things we've learned".
He has found though that the common experience we have all been through has changed people's attitude to comedy.
"If you do something like a silly pun, there's a genuine groan. People are saying to us 'Tell us something new about our lives'. They're demanding more meaningful content."
Omid feels strongly about the reaction in some sections of the community to protest movements like Black Lives Matter and the gesture by footballers to 'take the knee'.
"There seems to be less tolerance to those that boo footballers taking the knee – a load of people are more outraged."
The Chelsea-born comic's Iranian background means he is in tune with what is going on at the land of his mother and father, where despite it still being a brutal society he says there is a sea change going on with regard to attitudes towards people from different communities.
"Now in Iran they don't tolerate jokes about the 'other'," he said.
Politics will also be a subject on Omid's radar and he says the whole point of satire is to "highlight foolishness".
While he is back on stage doing stand-up he will soon be seen on the big screen in a cameo role in American romantic drama Text For You, starring Priyanka Chopra, Sam Heughan, Celine Dion and Russell Tovey.
He is proud of his performance at the Chichester Festival as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof back during the Syrian and refugee crisis in 2017, in particular bringing out some of the comic aspects of the play.
"It's about displacement – very moving. I had people coming from America to see it and they said it was the best they'd seen."
But he also loves being host of afternoon ITV quiz show Winning Combination, entertaining students "bunking off uni".
"What they want is a genuine daytime quiz show. I enjoy that more than anything else – it's the most fun I have," he said.
A big football fan, he still plays for celebrity XIs, and as he grew up in west London, between Chelsea and Brentford stadiums, he was delighted when the Bees were promoted to the Premier League in May.
He played in the west London leagues when he was younger and still enjoys taking to the football field although admits: "Commentators go bananas over my 'unnecessary skills'."
Although he will be playing to a reduced, socially distanced audience in Bishop's Stortford, he is just delighted to be performing live again.
"I cannot wait – I've been waiting so long to start this tour," he said.
* Omid Djalili will be performing two shows at South Mill Arts on Saturday July 10, at 6.45pm and 9pm. For tickets see https://southmillarts.co.uk.