Omid Djalili, the funniest man in England this side of Prince Philip, is coming to Caroline’s Comedy Club in Times Square the first weekend in November to film a Netflix UK comedy special, but only if his visa comes through.
For the British/Persian/politically incorrect comic, that visa isn’t a sure thing.
Djalili often describes himself in self-deprecating terms.
“I’m a fat, needy man pleading for attention,” he jokes. “And somehow this has connected with the audience.”
Djalili came up doing jokes about his ethnicity and has since moved over into biting political satire on both sides of the Atlantic.
The only thing that can stop him from getting into Caroline’s for his November engagement, ironically enough, is the White House’s travel ban.
“When they put it in the first time,” Djalili says, “I wasn’t able to get a visa, and as a result, I had to miss an appearance on one of the top TV shows in America.
“I applied for my visa this time around 12 weeks ago. It still hasn’t come yet. So maybe you’ll have to stand on stage for me and I’ll FaceTime you, and I’ll do my act that way.”
Djalili just did something exceptional for a comic, or for that matter, a Gentile.
He starred as Tevye in a British production of Fiddler on the Roof that set box office records on its way to a potential move to the West End.
Djalili is the first non-Jew to be cast in the role of Tevye in a major production of the play.
“I didn’t see it as a musical,” he says. “It’s a story with songs. It’s gut wrenching, and of course we were going to play the emotion of it, but I also felt the comedy of it.
“I read so many funny bits in the script and I thought, why have I never seen a really funny production, because there are some funny lines here. We thought, let’s really play this almost like a film—let’s play it real and play the emotion of it, and as a result, it was really funny.”
How does a Persian, non-Jewish comic-turned-actor view the play?
“It’s basically about a guy marrying off his daughters,” Djalili says, “and having all of his Jewish traditions challenged, but at the same time, it’s about immigration. It’s about buying into a family, and then they get thrown out, and the guy with his wagon pulls away from his village with his belongings. That’s such a great statement today about what’s happening around the world even now.
“So it was a two-fold thing. First you buy into it for the comedy aspect, and then it has a message that’s entirely relevant for what’s going on in the world today.”
Djalili began his career as the stereotypical Middle Eastern guy “making fun of himself with huge turbans and pantaloons,” he says.
“But you can’t just define yourself by ethnicity,” he says. “I don’t see myself as Iranian or British. I’m just a standup who has a different view of the world. You have to laugh and be joyous about things. That sounds very serious, but that’s how I feel.”
Djalili described a performance at a London corporate gig where he made a joke about, of all things, Brexit, and was practically booed off the stage.
“They were expecting me to do ethnic jokes,” he recalls. “I think they were surprised to see that I actually had something to say.”
At Caroline’s, Djalili will be performing his “Schmuck For A Night,” a comedic commentary on current events.
“Sometimes you have to throw out a joke after one week,” he says, “because the world changes so quickly today. I’ll still be doing my Sean Spicer material, though.
“We’ll be shooting the special over four nights,” he says, “which means I’ll have to shave my head every night and wear the same clothes. So it’ll be me looking the same, but just more and more white stains on my coat where the salt of my sweat comes through. That will be the one continuity problem.”
Otherwise, what can go wrong?
Omid Djalili at Caroline’s on Broadway, November 2-5. For further information, http://www.carolines.com/%3Fpost_type%3Dcomedian%26p%3D11234