Iranian comedian Omid Djalili prefers to keep his comedy for the stage... not the supermarket, he tells Roz Laws.
Omid Djalili reveals he is talking to me while lying with his feet up on a couch, and at times it feels like we’re in a therapy session.
I listen as he complains about the nature of fame – how comedians long to be in the spotlight, but how he’s not really liking it now he’s got it.
The main trouble, it seems, is the pesky public who won’t leave him alone.
The Iranian stand-up comic and actor, star of such films as The Mummy, Gladiator and Pirates of the Caribbean, moans: “I was in London today for a meeting and wore dark glasses and a baseball cap, but still someone recognised me from a great distance. There’s something about my shape. This guy came running up, wanting a photo.
“I can’t get away from it, and I’m getting more and more disturbed by it. I’m weary of it.
“Comedians are mentally ill. We need to be the centre of attention, but after a while you do feel satiated. I purposefully do little promotion – if I get half-full theatres, I’m happy.
“Of course, it would be worse if people thought I was awful. At least they seem to like what I do. They are genuinely excited to meet me, and that’s a bit scary.
“There’s an expectation that I will entertain them. I’ve seen Jimmy Carr cracking jokes with the public and he’s brilliant, but I can’t do that.
“I go ‘I’m not as funny or talented as you think I am, you know’. At least not when I’m doing my shopping.
“But anything I say – even ‘Don’t hold me so hard’ or ‘Can you hurry up taking the photo’ – they find funny. I seem to be able to ramble on and people think it’s genius, so this is clearly the perfect time to tour.”
Omid is bringing his Tour of Duty show to Birmingham on this week with the aim of cheering us all up. If we don’t laugh at his jokes, he reckons we will chuckle at his dancing.
Dancing, it turns out, is a far more controversial part of his act than his musings on the killing of Osama Bin Laden and Colonel Gaddafi – because it elicited a ‘dance or die’ threat.
“I’ve become known for belly dancing in the act. At the beginning of this tour there wasn’t any dancing, but audiences clearly missed it.
“I got a card saying ‘if you don’t dance tonight fat boy, we’re going to kill you’. It was in beautiful handwriting, like an embossed wedding invitation and quite witty – someone had thought about it.
“I’m treating it as a joke, but I believe you should give the public what they want, so the dancing is back.
“It started when I did a 20-minute act in the comedy clubs and only had enough material for 17 minutes, so I filled with a bit of belly dancing.
“Then the act got stronger and I didn’t need it, but people asked for it. I’ve found some new moves, too. Breakdancers spin on their backs, but I found I can spin on my belly, very fast.
“I only did it for a laugh but I got quite a reaction. People seem to think this is quite a sight.
“Dancing is joyous. I’ve been asked several times to take part in Strictly Come Dancing and have always refused because I haven’t had the time – it’s quite a commitment.
“But I would love to do it, especially if they promised me Bruce Forsyth as a partner.”
Father-of-three Omid, 46, says his Tour of Duty show is always changing and might include topics like the riots, the Arab Spring and the death of Sir Jimmy Savile.
But although the topics may be controversial, don’t expect Omid to be too cutting – and certainly not cruel.
He says: “I don’t understand why there is such a trend now for comedy to be cruel. Once you’re cruel, you’re not a comedian any more.
“And why have a 10-minute treatise on why God doesn’t exist? It’s like we are, as a society, attracted to the ugly. Why do we focus on ugliness and things that drag us down, when we should be attracted to beauty?
“The prospect of living in a world where there is no God terrifies me. Even if the atheists are right, it doesn’t uplift me to hear them.
“I try in my show to be uplifting and cheer people up. That’s what comedy should be.”
Omid is hoping not to repeat the mistake he made last time he was on stage in Birmingham.
“I mistook some Sikhs for Muslims, which was a bit silly. I said ‘Come on, you muzzies, get up here’. They walked on stage to expose and laugh at me, which was embarrassing.
“But Birmingham is a multi-cultural crowd and they seem to dig my act, so I enjoy playing there.”
* Omid Djalili’s Tour of Duty stops off at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre on Sunday November 27. Tickets: ring 0844 8713011 or go to www.alexandratheatre.org.uk.