Omid Djalili @ Hammersmith Apollo, 20/5/17

I don’t frequently see live comedy (any time I’ve been, including this, has been at someone else’s expense) but whenever I do I always think ‘why don’t I go more’? They’re often cheaper than musical events and you walk away just as entertained, and also a little less tired.

Omid is a British-Iranian comedian who is very visible in that he’s appeared in films and TV. One almost risqué quality of his material is that much of it is race-based – but not racist. His contemporary David Baddiel points out that he gets away with it because of his innocent naiveté (there’s no malice and he makes fun of himself too), and most likely because of his ethnicity. I once heard Omid describe himself as an adopted (South) Asian. And why wouldn’t we take him in when we’re happy for him to be a representative?

The 90min support slot was admirably supported by Boothby Graffoe with his guitar, and Omid’s jokes covered Trump, Brexit (yes, I found his anti-Brexit stuff funny) and any other thing that’s currently or timelessly topical. I would be interested in buying any possible DVD for this Shmuck for a Night tour – in which the Apollo was the closing date.

Going back to the material. I remember liking some comedy when growing up that was in hindsight racist. Why? Though race-based material can often be low-brow, it can still be funny. My thought process on viewing such things is “yes, this is a stereotype, and it’s even exaggerated. I find it funny not because I hate myself or that who is being targeted, but just because it’s an observation that can be used to entertain and not necessarily be malicious.” The problem only is in the intent of the comedian (Bernard Manning, for example, was pretty funny, but it seems quite clear that he genuinely believed other ethnicities are inferior). You could even have a fan that misinterprets what Omid says, but given that his liberal-left leanings are obvious in his other material there probably won’t be many of those.

And I don’t think being white disallows you from good-hearted race-based material. Al Murray pulls it off very successfully with his xenophobic Pub Landlord character.

There was even what could be seen as a sexist joke from Omid – but all the women were laughing. I remember in the 90s that there was a backlash against anything that could be seen as prejudicial, but I think the balance is just right with comedy at the moment: Be funny, by whatever means. But don’t be cruel.

****

On another note, the historian Tom Holland followed-up his previous documentary on the genesis of Islam with one that examined ISIS and the genocide of Yazidis. I didn’t watch this one. I thought the other one was fine, but on deciphering that he places human tragedies in ranking order rather than equally, I now find him a bit suspect, in terms of his conclusions rather than his research.

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