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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  April 19, 2022 12:30am-1:00am BST

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you're going to notice temperatures along those coastal strips close to the north sea a good deal cooler than you've been used to. whereas, sheltered in the west, you're going to see temperatures climb up into the mid—teens, maybe high teens for one or two. so, a big east—west contrast, whereas across europe, it's a north—south contrast. who would've picked norway out for your easter break?
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from the actor will smith. my guest today has spent more than 25 years finding laughs in sometimes unlikely places, omid djalili was born in london to iranian parents. he has thrived as a cross culture comedic chameleon, but is it possible to be funny without being mean?
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omid djalili, welcome to hardtalk. stephen sackur, my friend, my fellow presenter in the business of show, man who is so unbelievably good looking and thin that he walks into snooker hall, they start chalking his head. i am so happy to be here, this is one of my favourite shows. well, if you carry on like that, this might be an interview, it will be a monologue! let me ask you this, you have been doing comedy for almost 30 years, do you find the same stuff funny today as you did back then? what a tricky question! what a way to start. that is such a tricky question. look, at the end of the day, it is a big subject now because we saw the oscars and we saw will smith smack chris rock. can i just tell you, just to speak personally, i saw the video the day after, and i bleary eyed woke
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up on monday morning, and i just thought that will smith had smacked chris rock for a bad joke, and my first thought was, my god, if they are slapping chris rock for a bad joke, my act is going to be like a bavarian dance festival, it isjust going to be like, slapping all the time. but i think it is an interesting one because to me, funny is funny. i was speaking to eddie izzard about this because we've both done shows in different languages, and he did his shows in french and german and spanish, and i'vejust done one in the persian language. to prove that funny is funny. but the most important thing in comedy is for people to know the comedian, and that is something that we don't realise, because i know that when i... one of my reasons why added the show in the persian language is because i felt people in iran didn't know me, so when i went on a persian language radio show, they would say, so, mr djalili, have you got any films coming out? and they didn't know me enough because they didn't even register a joke, because they said, have you got any films coming out? i said, yes, two years ago, i
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did a film about constipation, but it hasn't come out yet. and they said, well, when is it coming out? i said we keep pushing for a release. and there is no movement. they said, will you let us know when it comes out? and i said i would be relieved. that was a terrific answer, it didn't actually really answer the question. but i got a couple of gags in which is the most important thing. but a bit like a politician, you avoided it. because there is a serious undercurrent to this question. yes, there is. has what is funny changed for you? you used to do a lot of, if i can put it this way, sort of ethnic humour. you would adopt actions, you are a brilliant mimic, a lot of it would be about the cultural diversity of your home city which is london, and you would play the role of characters, and does that work today in the same way that it worked 30 years ago? it does, but you have to navigate it. when we talk about ethnic humour, we come from the age in the �*60s and �*70s when there were those awful irishjokes, you know, englishman, irishman, scotsmanjokes, and the idea was that we were at war with the ira so english people
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culturally were doing jokes to make irish people look stupid. and some white middle—aged male comedians were doing jokes about africans and about other ethnic minorities, adopting silly voices and getting a laugh but it wasn't a laugh which was really with those characters they were portraying, it was at them. it was at them, and i have to say, did i find that funny? i didn't find it funny in those days, i still don't think it is funny now. so, now, if you do a joke that feels a bit mean, what you have to do is you have to cushion it. i'll give you an example. i did a testicular cancer benefit gig and some celebrities were there and the famous snooker player was there. and i wanted to do a joke which i probably should have set up a bit better. ijust said this particular snooker player has recovered from his cancer because the had the operation where they took out one of his balls, polished it, and put it back in again. now, thatjoke got nothing on the night, but the snooker
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player himself laughed because he knew that it is good to laugh at these things. that is why i think chris rock was slightly misunderstood because he had heard, he knew very well what he was doing, and that was a joke that at the time i believe was cleared by the academy, because he is there to roast some of the nominees. you mean it was chris rock in sympathy... i think the idea is you are losing your hair but you look great, you look like gijane. let's go back a little bit to your beginnings. raised by iranian parents who had moved to london who then couldn't go back to iran, so you are a real genuine londoner but actually i think your first language was farsi when you were a real small kid. it was. and you go to a london school, and you were a bit of an outsider, and ijust wonder whether that difficulty of being seen as an outsider lead you to use humour as some sort of defence mechanism? is that where it all began? i think so, yeah. i was very aware that even though i went to a multicultural school,
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both at primary and secondary school, i did feel that i was the wrong colour, i had the wrong name. so, when i realised i was very unattractive to girls, when i was in those very difficult adolescent ages, 13,14, humour became very important to me. i started doing sketches at school to try and become validated. we often say comedians, you know, we are very hurt individuals, we are doing this to heal the wounds of our childhood and we need the laughter of strangers to validate us. but that is true. did you pretend to be sicilian for a while? idid, yes. i told people my name was chico and i was from palermo in sicily. the iranian revolution had happened so it had had an massive impact on me as a child the way people thought i was from a very weird culture. so, i think humour became a comfort. a weird culture, you say, and of course that is the way some in england at the time would have seen it but i wondered the degree
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to which you would have then sort of played into that notion of being a bit weird, a bit of an outsider in your early profession? in the memoir, there is this fascinating letter that you recount you wrote to a talent agency, and it goes like this... you said to the agency, i think the way forward is to go down the ethnic bit part route, i am quite adept at accents, you said rather immodestly, iranian, afghani, turkish, pakistani, i could even play a russian commandant or a bulgarian gymnast trainer, a slovak border guard. i can play french, german, american mafia boss, i'm pretty good at regional british accents, too. so, you were pushing this idea that you could be put into a pigeonhole, i think you have later said the ethnic scumbag. yes, that was one of my firstjokes. i am an arab scumbag specialist but in the bond film, i did play the second azerbaijani oil pipe attendant, which is a major departure for me in my career! but here you are, walking
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yourself into a pigeonhole. i love that, i love it when you get challenging! it wasn't that, it was back in the 90s when i started off, i felt it was the only way to get work because, you know, you see films where in another country, you've got all these actors with high cheekbones and they were good—looking, i realised i was a short, squat, iranian bloke. that is why i fought back with comedy by doing the show called i am a short fat kebab shop owner's son, because i look like a short fat kebab owner's son. as you can hearfrom my voice, there was a tall, thin, high cheekbones english ponce screaming to get out. this was me reacting. but how frustrating for you. oh, so frustrating. i'm being serious. you walked into an image which then it's taken you decades to sort of develop, evolve, and move beyond. yes. look, at the end of the day, it took a long time before i got my first lead role. i remember playing picasso
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opposite andy garcia in modigliani, and i hadn't lost enough weight so i remember at the cannes film festival, someone said, picasso was a little bit overweight, can someone explain... i said between the rose period and the blue period, there was the porkadelic period, where picasso used to paint with doughnuts in his hand, and the whole press just put their heads down and wrote it down. so, i think there is a frustration that i was pigeonholed but i think what happened, when i said people need to know you, it has taken me about 30 years for people to know me and trust me, that they don't think i am some kind of terrorist cell who has been a sleeper cell here and is finally going to blow himself up on live television. i just wonder, if with the benefit of hindsight and a career that has proved to be a great success, you can now say that you regret maybe sometimes when you bit your tongue at the degree of prejudice and stereotyping that you experienced? again, to be specific, you were in the mummy.
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i have to confess i never saw it, but it was quite a big movie at the time. it was the movie that saved universal studios. did it really? yeah, yeah. but you say, looking back on it, that the people who made that film just thought, quote, arab people were fat, smelly, and you used another rude word that i can't use, fat, smelly people, it was as simple as that. and yet you willingly took the money... that's why i got the role, i was perfect. i was absolutely perfect. no, but why did you bite your tongue if you felt that you were living in this world of prejudice? actually, i'm really glad that you brought that up because when i... i've got to tell you this story. when i went for the audition, there were three pages and i had a line on each, and then we read it, and then when it finished, the directorsaid, 0k, let's do it again. and this time... and i said, are you giving me notes? he said yes. isaid, no, i have done these lines as well as i possibly can. you have written this as a one—dimensional character. at best, if you let me improvise, i can bring this up to a two—dimensional. in the 1990s, they were never going to write
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a three—dimensional arabic character, so, what i did was i played it for laughs. because i said, if you are going to make him like some fat, smelly person, let's do it for laughs because that would be the only way that it would be acceptable for brown people to see this character. so, i played it for laughs, and i actually nearly got fired because i wasn't supposed to be funny, but that was the way i dealt with it. i navigated it by trying to raise it up to a two—dimensional character. but going back to my question about maybe the way you have changed or evolved, would you take that sort of role today? no, iwouldn�*t, and i think if there was such a role but it would have had some meat to it, i would insist on writing it and working with the director and the writers to raise the level of the character. so, that is when 0mid djalili was pretty much acting as well as doing comedy. now, you are much more into comedy, you do a bit of acting but it is mostly comedy. you've talked about the degree
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to which you think comedy suits you better because it is more honest, and i wonder what you mean by honesty in that sense? i think honesty is the most important one. it is the foundation of all virtues, and i think that certainly in comedy, authenticity is the most important thing. and that is what i... when i watch comedy, when i see a comedian being authentic, that is when i laugh the most. comedy is notjust about... for me, funny is never the end, you use funny to make a point, so now that i am in my mid 50s, i am using comedy to make a point so that is authentically me, and the more authentic you can be, the more powerful the comedy is. can you be authentic? can you be your genuine funny self in a culture today which some comedians say is so full of sort of correctness, of wokery, even cancel culture? to quote bill maher, the american late—night comedian, there is a war onjokes. do you think there is war onjokes? a little bit, yes, but also, i think if a comedian
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is clever, they can navigate it in a way. i will give you an example, stephen, coming from the comedy clubs where it was very bang, bang, bang. you've got ten seconds to make someone laugh. i remember being in a comedy club and they weren't laughing, and the guy goes, give me a chance, and people said, if you are not funny, get off, and he said, give me a chance, i am actually a schizophrenic. you can both get off. so, people are really quick. the way the comedy is built for short bits, and that is where you can get into trouble because if you just go for the gag, you may get into trouble. so, now, for my concert pieces, i have never done more setup in my life, because sometimes you need setup and, i better say this before they cancel may. there is more explanation. not so much, you know... not so much stuff that is going to take away from the gag, you can do it in an economical
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way, but i find that when i look at the totality of my show, it used to be 200 laughs, now it is like 150 laughs but you need that extra buffer, you need to kind of explain yourself more. but this is where it gets interesting because i get the impression that some comedians actually take offending people as a badge of honour. are you one of those? no, i know there are a lot of comedians like that who... it is about how can you get the worst thing that has happened and be the first one to do a joke? comedians like anthony jeselnik, louis ck, all these people. dave chappelle, he has said, i am quoting directly, comedians have a responsibility to speak recklessly. sometimes, the funniest thing to say is plain mean. yeah. but that is if your comedy is just about the laugh. i think there is a higher level of comedy where you use the comedy to make a point. so, that to me is childish. yeah, they are funny, and they can do it, and they are very funny guys. but there are loads of funny people out there. i know lots of people in comedy clubs in britain who are just as funny and can do that kind of thing, but there are lots
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of us who just choose not to do that kind of comedy. you're too nice, is that what you are telling me, you are too nice? it's not too nice, ijust don't see the point of it. so we can all snigger like children? it doesn't turn me on, as a comic. do you have red lines, then? what are things that you... actually, considering this notion of where lines should be in comedy and what offence is beyond acceptable for a comedian to rouse, what would your red lines be? that is a really good question because on the one hand, as far as free speech is concerned, there should be... no subject is off limits, and it is up to the comedian�*s intelligence to make that funny. but, for me, i have always found it very hard to get humour out of terrible human suffering. i remember getting into an argument with another comedian where on 9/1! there was a show at the comedy store and a phone went off in the audience, this is on the 11th of september 2001, and the comedian said, oh, my god, oh, no, that is not
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the 110th floor again. and it was making fun of people who were on the 110th floor who were roasting alive. and i remember thinking, that's not a very good joke. and the other comedian was saying, yeah, but he is trying to deal with the situation. and i just thought that is trying to make light of someone burning alive, so i personally, that is a little red line for me. i don't even go there. but for me, that is the red line. i am just interested. i may mangle it, i probably will because i am not good atjoke telling, but there is one joke of yours which i recall which i wonder whether in retrospect you might think... 0h, he is getting hard on me now, i love this. it was a line you said about an iranian listening to a joke about an irishman, an englishman, and a scotsman, the classic setupjoke for an english audience, and the iranians didn't get it, you said, because to him, that was just a hostage situation. yeah, thejoke is in britain, an englishman, an irishman, and a scotsman — that is the beginning of a joke. for us, that is a hostage situation. yeah.
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you are not even muslim, we know that you are really talking about islamic terrorism, islamist terrorism, i should say, not islamic. islamist, fundamentalist, extremists who conduct or did conduct those sorts of operations in places like lebanon. it is a great example. you are not muslim so what right do you have to make that sort of gag? that is, first of all, a very good point. and i did a lot of those kinds ofjokes at the beginning, and i reflect on it now on my show, those are the jokes i needed to, i suppose, get into western liberal metropolitan society, for people to like me. i actually bring that gag up as a kind of gag i would never do now, and the audience laugh even more. and i talk about their white privilege as well. it was a gag which, it is very clear... that is what i am saying, that is why people need to know me as well because i am not a muslim, i am not a terrorist, but that was
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the kind ofjoke that would get me into the hearts of british people. sadly. so when fellow comedians like ricky gervais suggest that the comedy environment is becoming more and more difficult to operate in, do you agree? no, i don't think it is that difficult. for me, even cancel culture is an interesting one. there was an example of a guy called dapper laughs, who had a television show on itv, and he was cancelled. and then there was the all the stuff about how appalling he was, there was all this sexist humour, and then he was on newsnight and he was grilled, and it was really awful to watch. my question was, we never brought forward the people who gave him a television show in the first place, who thought that kind of humour was appropriate for white britain, to i suppose digest that humour. so, the people who gave that show in the first place were never brought to any account whereas a lot of us comedians were saying, how the hell has that guy got
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a tv show? that is not the kind of humour that we need right now. that is the big question, who are the people that are deciding these things? that is the big question. i am just mindful that a lot of this conversation has been about the kind of comedy that is edgy, it is cynical, it pokes fun at organised religion and cultures, it is not the sort of humour that you would expect to come from a person of faith. and yet you are a person of faith. i can't think of many well—known comics who are open, explicit, about their faith. does it affect your humour? it does, very much, and i think this is where when we talk about identity politics and all this, this is where i am driven by my faith because my faith believes that really shouldn't be an issue. to be clear, i'm not sure i mentioned it, but you are baha'i. there are hundreds of thousands of baha'i around. all around the world, yeah. but, in iran, they are oppressed. it is not easy to be baha'i...
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in iran, the baha'i, most of their rights are taken away, they can't go to university, they can't even work in some cases. but the basic tenant of the baha'i faith is what we call the twofold moral purpose, that we are here on this planet, we are spiritual beings, to try and become better but at the same time make society better. we are quite activist, in a sense, we get involved in society, we try and raise the level of discussion so, for me, being a baha'i absolutely drives what i do because it is not about making fun of racism, religions, it is about absolutely saying the oneness of humanity is a fact, it is not even a nice idea. so, all the stuff about identity politics is interesting because of course we can be ajew, or you can be lgbtq or you can be whoever you are, as long as we understand we are all fundamentally one. if we understand that, then the comedy will be easier to do. you are currently making comedy in farsi. how is your farsi? not very good.
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well, it better improve, because you want to win a big audience in iran on bbc persian, you are doing a comedy chat show. and i am just wondering whether you think the humour that is fundamentally, you know, it is about 50 odd years living in london, being brought up in this cosmopolitan and diverse city, is that humour going to work in iran? well, apparently it has. it is now... these are not my figures but the bbc figures, it is now the most watched comedy show on earth. they told me it was a minimum of 12 million people watched it. the only negative comment we have seen is that 0mid djalili's persian is similar to the english of 0svaldo ardiles, a tottenham hotspur player who came over from argentina, when he spoke english and he referred to tottenham as totten—ham. so, that is how they describe my persian. but i guess what i am driving at is not so much whether you are gifted as a linguist but whether it
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works, just doing a show where you might be thinking in english, concocting jokes in english, and translating them straight into farsi and hoping they will be funny in tehran, too. yes. what i did was their show was 33 minutes long, we made about 70 minutes of stuff and then we, in consultation with iranians in iran, they said, look, we find this funny but that not so much. but, you know, funny is funny and i am actually very proud that i have exported this kind of british humour directly into iran, bbc persian is shown in iran, and to see people saying, wow, this is the kind of comedy we need, this is exactly the kind of relevant humour that really speaks to people in iran, so i was very proud that coming from a british background and thinking i am really the person to do this, but hey, i will be the first person to go from the west to the east. people come from east to west but i am the first person doing it, and they actually liked it, which is great. and a final thought, for more than two years, thanks to covid, it was hard
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for you to be funny in front of an audience, but you are back on the road now, you have got a new tour going across the uk, you have talked about the pure joy of making a live audience laugh. how much did you miss it? oh, my god. i missed it so much that when i did a zoom gig... can you imagine doing a zoom gig and just before... it's not like we muted everyone, butjust before a punch line, you hear someone going, martin, can you let the cat in! it was a disaster for comedy, and i often used to take my computer into the toilet and say, here is the sound of my career, and i would press the flush, and that would be my toilet flushing, and that is kind of what i thought. if you speak to any comedian now, i have spoken to people likejimmy carr, david baddiel, we all say the joy of being out there is because comedy should be in a theatre because that is where you are enjoying it and you are actually getting a physiological kick from it, it is notjust watching it on your phone or on your tablet, you are getting a physiological high, you can think about it, you can dream about it,
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and you can sometimes have the benefit for about a week after seeing a live show. and you can even bring it into the hardtalk studio. that has been my greatest pleasure. it has been an honour and i thank you so much forjoining me. thanks a lot. thank you. hello. for those of you who have extended your easter break into this week, there is some good weather news in that there'll be a lot of dry weather around. admittedly, there will be some more showers, more especially during the next 2a hours. as the week goes on, increasing breeze will turn eastern areas that bit cooler. 0ut there to start tuesday, a bit of a chilly start as it is. touch of frost in places,
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particularly in southern scotland, across ireland and towards the borders of southeast wales and southwest midlands. a lot of cloud across england to begin with, already producing one or two showers, a few lingering showers in the west from overnight. but through the day, the cloud starts to increase across parts of england into wales, showers become a bit more abundant, some becoming heavy and thundery. showers throughout the day in the highlands of scotland, and whilst the odd one's possibly in northern ireland, southern and eastern scotland, there will be dry and sunny weather to come here, and much more sunshine in east anglia and the southeast later. temperatures down in recent days, but at levels we should be this stage in mid—april. some showers continue into the night, but notice how they're starting to track further westwards. a developing easterly breeze, most noticeable for england and wales. that could bring in some mist and low cloud toward some eastern coasts of northern england and east scotland not only through the night, but into wednesday, where, again, we could start with a touch of frost in the north and the west. but for most on wednesday, actually a lot more sunshine around away from those eastern coasts, a few showers dotted around in the west, but more
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of you will have a dry day. but with that east—to—southeasterly wind, you're going to notice temperatures along those coastal strips close to the north sea a good deal cooler than you've been used to. whereas, sheltered in the west, you're going to see temperatures climb up into the mid—teens, maybe high teens for one or two. so, a big east—west contrast, whereas across europe, it's a north—south contrast. who would've picked norway out for your easter break? 20 degrees in oslo on wednesday compared to wet and windy conditions and rather cool conditions across eastern spain. spanish costas not looking great over the next few days due to this area of low pressure. as that pushes its way in towards the mediterranean, high pressure expands across the north atlantic, iceland and scandinavia. we're going to drag in more of an easterly wind here in the uk. it does mean a lot of sunshine around for thursday, a bit of cloud building up through the day. an isolated shower can't be ruled out, but most places will be dry. still that east—west split as i mentioned with temperature conditions. but as we go into the end of the week and weekend, it does look like whilst many in the north will stay dry, increasing chance of some showers spreading out from the south.
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take care.
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welcome to newsday. reporting live from singapore, i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines: ukraine says russia has launched its large—scale offensive in the east of the country. president zelensky says the battle for the donbas region has begun.
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translation: no matter how many of the russian troops i are there, we will be fighting. we will defend ourselves and we will do everything that we must to keep what is ukrainian. in the city of lviv, in the west, 7 people die, as parts of the country previously unscathed, come underfire. ukrainians believe this is a reminderfrom russia that it still has fire power and is prepared to use it. the chinese city of shanghai, which has been under lockdown for more than three weeks,


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