Part of the Humourology series
Season 3, Episode 59
Omid Djalili – Gladiator of Gags
Award-Winning Comedian and Actor Omid Djalili joins Paul Boross to share tips from a long and successful career of comedy on the stage and screen. Hear how Djalili uses humour to unite audiences and cultures through his work as a stand-up and comedy actor. Join us for stories from scoring first time against RoboKeeper (something Lionel Messi could never) to scoring with audiences around the world only on The Humourology Podcast.
Listen, enjoy and subscribe where you get your podcasts
Omid Djalili is an international sensation on the stage and screen, he joins Paul Boross to discuss a lifetime of laughter. From blockbuster movies to award winning stand up, Djalili has built a career in comedy. He joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss the power of humour in bringing people together through the hard times.
“I learned very quickly that laughing can get you out of a difficult situation. I think that was I learned that humour is like a superpower.”
Join Omid Djalili and Paul Boross as they share stories from the stage and screen. Take a peek into what makes Omid such a powerful and punchy performer only on The Humourology Podcast.
Follow him on Twitter
Follow him on Facebook
Visit his Website
Omid also has a YouTube Channel
Hosts & Guests
Read the podcast
Click to see the transcript of the podcast
Omid Djalili on the Humourology Podcast
Omid Djalili (00:00):
I always say that laughter is a spiritual quality. We’re the only people… we’re the only species that have the ability to laugh on the planet. I mean, dogs can wag their tails and be amused, but they can’t laugh the way we do. And they say that a belly laugh with regards to endorphins being released is the equivalent to 20 minutes of yoga. So, you know, one laugh… if you’re laughing all the time, you don’t really need to do much exercise. That’s my excuse.
Paul Boross (00:28):
Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross and my glittering lineup of guests from the world’s of business sport and entertainment who are here to share their wisdom and their use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals. Increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.
Paul Boross (01:04):
My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is a multi-award winning comedian and actor getting his start at the Edinburgh fringe. He has built a priceless comedy career worthy of prestigious praise. He’s the recipient of several awards, including an Emma award, a Time Out award and an LWT comedy award for best standup comedian. His career quickly evolved from the stage to the screen where he has racked up recognition on his resume from roles in movies, such as The Infidel, Gladiator Mama Mia 2 and Spy Game with Brad Pitt, just to name a few, he has received a best supporting actor award for his work in Casanova. The only thing more impressive than his list of awards is his resume, which spans from standup comedy to film to television. If he were not so busy on the stage and screen, he might finally achieve his footballing ambitions and be spotted to play in the premiership for his beloved Chelsea. Omid Djalili, welcome to the Humourology podcast.
Omid Djalili (02:16):
Most people say what a great introduction, but I say you left a lot of things out there, and I’m pretty annoyed about it. There are a couple of major things, but I’ll give you a pass. Let’s go ahead.
Paul Boross (02:29):
Okay. Okay. I left all this stuff out about Robokeeper, which is probably your greatest moment on film. For those of you…
Omid Djalili (02:40):
I’m glad that you mentioned that. Yeah. I did what Lionel Messi could not do. Messi scored against Robokeeper after 16 attempts. I did it in my first attempt. In the history of mankind, no one’s done that. So I’m very, I’m very proud of that
Paul Boross (02:54):
And, and it is very, very impressive. And I advise all our listeners to look it up on YouTube and your celebration is something to behold after that, to be honest with you,
Omid Djalili (03:04):
I thought that YouTube clip would get millions, but it’s certainly, it’s only at 53,000 or something. I think they think it’s doctored. I don’t think they realise it’s a real clip. That’s why it’s not really gone viral, but it was a, it was a big moment, big moment in my life.
Paul Boross (03:18):
I really enjoyed your fabulously entertaining autobiography – Hopefully. Where you talk a lot about being young and growing up in a very interesting and slightly unconventional Iranian family in London. I was fascinated reading how much humour was valued in your family, to the extent where your parents school you from a very early age in joke construction. Why was humour so valued at home?
Omid Djalili (03:46):
I think it’s because they took in sick Iranians. Who’d come over from Iran to Britain to get medical help, and they’d keep them in the house. And they found that if you kept the atmosphere light, if you made people laugh, they healed quicker. So there were lots of jokes like in Iran, the word eggs can also double up as your testicles. So they’d often say, how would you like your testicles this morning, fried, boiled, or scrambled? And it was the same joke I heard every day for years. And it always made the guests laugh. And I think it was because they wanted to keep a turnover going. They wanted people to heal. So they get more people in. So it was actually a business decision that they kept humour to, I suppose, heal people, get them out and get the new people in. So it was actually… it was a business decision and both very funny people. And I think they just enjoyed, they enjoyed humour. And when I would say, I don’t get that joke, my mother would try and teach me joke construction. And she’d always say the thing about a joke at the end, it has to be something surprising. So it doesn’t matter if you get it or not. It’s a surprise. So it was from a very early age. I understood the whole idea of not just appreciating jokes, but writing jokes.
Paul Boross (05:04):
And, and so was it also about social status? Was it cultural or was it purely to do with the effect it was having on the ill people who you were surrounded by?
Omid Djalili (05:16):
It affected the ill people, but I remember something my, my mother said which, which you can, which you can actually apply to standup comedy. That if you go to a comedy show – a friend of mine saw Ed Byrne recently, he said, I really enjoyed it, but I don’t remember anything he said, I just remember laughing a lot. And then they said, what about me? I don’t remember anything you said. I just remember feeling very happy. And I think my mother said they won’t anything. They won’t remember the jokes. They won’t remember anything, but they’ll just have a memory of being joyful. And joy is an element in people’s lives that is very much lacking. And if you can give it to them, it’s so precious. It’s the main thing they’ll remember. So, humour was always used as a tool to implement joy. They never saw humour and being funny as an end in itself, it was always a means to an end. So they said, you should use humour and jokes to get to the end of joy cuz that’s what they remember. And that’s what they’ll talk about when they get back.
Paul Boross (06:15):
I’m interested from a psychological perspective that actually it’s a state change, isn’t it? You can actually change people’s state and that’s the joy. There was a very interesting social science experiment where they actually got nurses who were very good at actually teasing and chiding and playing with people. And they discovered that those nurses, their patients healed in half the time because of the joy. And it sounds like instinctively your parents and you knew that that was true.
Omid Djalili (06:54):
Yeah. I think that’s one of the reasons why Harry Hill, who was a junior doctor he didn’t go on to be a GP professionally because he saw there was actually more value in making patients laugh when he went round bed to bed. So he went into comedy rather than medicine. And I know that when I’m doing shows, it’s been really interesting being in lockdown and not being able to experience comedy and maybe putting stuff out that was digitally experienced. It’s a big difference between watching something on your phone and actually seeing it live. And that’s the reason why we go out to see live shows because it is a change of state. You can go and see a band. I’m a huge fan of Santana and I love listening to Santana, but when you see them live, you experience a different physical date.
Omid Djalili (07:38):
You physiologically change. And I think that’s the same with comedy, which is why being very well aware that it’s the final memory when they’re leaving. in my head, I always try and construct what I see in my head, what I want an audience to feel and experience. So I’ll say what I want them is to be laughing. I want them to be standing. It doesn’t always happen, but I want them to be dancing on the way out. So it’s that joyful thing. And I’m trying to construct a show that builds towards that. It builds towards the very final thing as they’re leaving. So it’s very important to think about what you want people to feel.
Paul Boross (08:18):
You are currently on the road with The Good Times Tour, which goes on until December and takes you all over the country. How do you, I mean, you’ve been doing it a long time, but how do you construct something whereby you can control the joy to build to that level at the end?
Omid Djalili (08:37):
It is something that as you’ve become more conscious and I really believe that you can only really find your comedy voice after years in the business, 20, 25, maybe even 30 years. I remember speaking to Colin Quinn. Who’s a wonderful comedian. I’m sure you’ve…
Paul Boross (08:54):
I worked with Colin at Caroline.
Omid Djalili (08:57):
Yeah. He’s I mean, he’s a real comedians comedian in the sense that when Louis CK had 2 million followers on Twitter, he only followed one person. And that was Colin Quinn. Even he was saying that he, he had a comedian called Dennis Miller, saw him early on in his career. He goes, you’re really funny, but there’s something missing…something missing about you. I don’t know what it is. And then he saw him 10 years later, he goes, yeah. You know, remember when I saw you and, and now 10 years later, there’s still something missing. There’s still something missing about you. And Colin was like, what can I do? And then it was 10 years after that. He said, okay, now, now you’ve got it. And think it’s just experience you need years and years at this before you, you actually, you become more conscious.
Omid Djalili (09:41):
And I think that Colin was saying that he’s become more conscious as a comedian and he’s so grateful to be doing it because it’s something we take for granted. We end up in this, in this business and we just do it. And a lot of people just do it unconsciously at any business you find yourself, you don’t really think about how I got there. You think I’m here. And then you don’t really think about how am I doing it? You just do it. And then there comes a point where you just where the breaks are put on and you think, okay, how am I doing this? What am I doing? What am I achieving? And you go down to every detail of how you even deliver a joke, even what you’re wearing, even how much food you intake before the show, everything is done consciously. And I think that’s where the joy comes into it. When you’re conscious, when you know exactly what you want to do and how you want to achieve it. And I think that’s the big thing in all business. You always think about what’s the end and how am I doing it? And most businesses that think like that are usually very successful. They’re conscious and they’re success they’re successful because they are consciously working towards something to be consciously successful. I don’t know. That sounds a bit like gobbledygook. Be conscious about it.
Paul Boross (10:51):
Yeah, but it’s kind of like… I would say it’s unconscious competence. That’s right at the top of the tree is you go from conscious incompetence. Yes. And then you build right until you get to unconscious competence whereby you are unconsciously competent because you’ve thought about it and gone through all.
Omid Djalili (11:17):
That’s brilliant. That is brilliant. Yes. Well done. Well said, Paul, we should do a podcast with you. You know, more about this than I do.
Paul Boross (11:24):
Well, bless you. Bless you. I wanna take you back because your childhood was quite staggering and in the book you talk about it, but you, one of the few people who talks about that classic comedians tale about using humour to get out of tricky situations and you actually believe it because there’s a wonderful story in the book about, you know, doing extravagant dancing to stop a fight for instance.
Omid Djalili (11:53):
Yes. I used to many times I learned from a very young age. I remember I was one of three kids and somebody had done something wrong. And um, between me and my brother and my sister and my father wanted to make a public show of, I suppose, corporal punishment. So he goes line up, you’re all gonna get smacked. So my brother who was at the time 13, he stood there. My dad smacked him very hard in front of all these guests. So it was very public shaming. Yeah. It was something we’d done. I can’t remember what we’d done wrong. And then my sister, what I thought he’s not gonna hit my sister. And he did, my sister was like nine and he smacked her really hard and I like five going on six. I really didn’t wanna be smacked. So I said, it’s alright.
Omid Djalili (12:37):
I can do it myself. And I started slapping myself and everyone burst out laughing. And he never smacked me because I’d smack myself 12 or 15 times. And I started doing it. Don’t bother, I’ll do it myself. I’m so wrong. And I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, but I knew it would make them laugh and I learnt very quickly that actually laughing can get you out of a difficult situation. So I remember bullies were trying to beat me up, but I do a strange kind of like that kind of, you know, that strange Egyptian dancing and, and I got away with things and I think that was, I learned that humour is like a superpower. I remember doing a sketch at school in front of the whole school in 2,600 people laughing. And I was 12.
Omid Djalili (13:20):
I was in what you call year seven now. And the girls in year 12 who were like these very cool girls, they were called Pinky and Sam. I’ll never forget them – they were baseball jackets and, and pink berets. And they were like, they were two long blond hair. Uh, and they were saying, you are funny, hang around with us. So they would look for me at break time and I’ve got to to sit with them. And all these young kids would be looking at me and they’d have their arms around me because I was funny. And I think that I realised that, wow, this goofy, ugly Iranian kid can win over a whole school with a fabulous punchline. You know, it was a fabulous punchline and the sketch was very, very sophisticated and I think they couldn’t believe it was such a great punchline for such a great sketch. So, I learnt that actually one way to sublimate being an ethnic minority, being not just ignored, but maybe piloried because the Iranian revolution happened and that there was showing a lots of images of Islamic fundamentalists smacking their heads. We looked like a very, very unattractive bunch of people to hang around with. And yet it was an Iranian kid that made the whole school laugh. And I remember thinking it was a big moment in my life.
Paul Boross (14:30):
Well, I’m really fascinated by you using the word superpower because I think, and that can make you rise above everything else because the whole point of the whole Humourolgy project is how humour can actually bring things together on that level. And it almost sounds like humour could be used for world peace because if you, you know, it’s, it’s a little bit like, you know, The New Seekers singing, I’d like to teach the world to sing, but I’d like to teach the world to laugh is probably… everybody laughs in the same way, it’s the human condition. If you like
Omid Djalili (15:11):
The great point of agreement, you know, it’s happened at the UN actually that the UN there was a great moment, actually, when I dunno if you heard about this, It’s a true story where there was a terrible during the Middle Eastern peace process, there was terrible conflicts between the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Palestinian delegate got up and said, and it was very tense. People had died, there were bombings. And it was a big risk he took, he goes, Secretary General, everyone in the room, before I say something, I like to tell you one little story. He said there was a Palestinian man many, many years ago in the desert thousand of years ago. And he was, I think even mentioned when I think during the time of the pharaohs, he said there was a Palestinian man who got to a lake and he took off his clothes and he went for a swim, but while he was swimming, a filthy Jew came and stole his clothes and ran away at which point that Israeli delegate goes objection; at the time pre pharoahs, there were no Jews in Palestine.
Omid Djalili (16:18):
And the Palestinian delegate said, and with that fact established, I’d now like to make my opening address. There was roar, there was a roar of laughter. And they were saying that was the beginning of the peace process. I think when the Norwegians were involved in 93, like the whole story of the show, Oslo, which is a great play, if you’ve seen it all kicked off with a very risky joke like that. So actually in these times where we’ve just come through great period with Brexit and we’ve come through with, you know, Brexitier/remain, there’s such division. And I always believe that it’s made up with divide and rule. They’re trying to keep us divided. And they’re trying to keep us divided now with the war in Ukraine, they’re trying to make a globe where it’s like, as if Putin… Putin and Biden have said, look, you have one half, we’ll take the other half. And that seems to be this division that humour is the one thing that knocks all divides away. And I think that’s why historically comedians have been attacked put in prison because they’re the ones who bring about the great agreement and the great unity amongst people.
Paul Boross (17:21):
Well, and totalitarians hate humour more than anything else. I mean in apartheid you weren’t allowed to do plays. Standup comedy didn’t exist. It wasn’t allowed. If you can control everything else, but you can’t control the laughter.
Omid Djalili (17:43):
There was one thing I said on stage the other day, I said, look, we can’t really judge the Russians right now. Because if you judge Russians based on their leadership, that’s not fair. It’d be like people judging British people based on our leadership. And if they do that, we screwed kinda thing. So I said, I’d like to just share with you, there were little memes going says, one night, I, I saw this thing on the internet. There was a couple of Soviet jokes going around. And I said, well, here’s a Soviet joke, which shows you the jokes in the time the Soviet Union, they did these jokes. Then the joke was that you couldn’t buy it like a car or an oven. If you did, you have you do it 10 years in advance, there’s a guy buys a car and he puts a down payment down and they said, congratulations, you just bought your car. Come back on this day in 10 years time and pick up your car. And the guy who’s bought it says, is that morning or afternoon? And he says, well, what difference does it make? It’s in 10 years time, he goes, well, that day I’ve got the plumber coming around the morning that day.
Omid Djalili (18:41):
So, when you see that the Russians are telling jokes like that amongst themselves, they must have a sense of humour. Therefore, they must have humanity. And therefore, if the are allowed to see what’s actually going on, which we understand, 75% are not, then they would be just as outraged by this war. So it’s important actually. I now start putting a couple of Soviet jokes in my set. Just so people don’t feel bad towards the Russians. There’s a great joke that Paul Riser told me about the Russians. I want to do it the way he does it, he goes in 1905 in St. Petersburg. They come out, they come out in the big square. They go everyone gather we’ve had a big harvest. There are too many vegetables. So if you wanna get extra vegetables, carrots, mushrooms come out. and we’ll give them out for free. So everyone comes out and they’re in the freezing cold waiting. And they say, we’ve made a mistake, there’s not enough vegetables. All the Jews can go home. Jews just leave. So the Jews just leave. It’s freezing cold. And after another hour, they go, we’ve made a miscalculation. There’s not enough vegetables. All the women can go as well. So the women leave. Another hour goes by. It’s like minus 20. We made a mistake. Everyone can leave. Except for the military people. There’s only enough vegetables for them. So everyone leaves. And then they say after another hour, that goes, there’s not enough vegetables everyone. Everyone can leave except for the two star generals. And there’s only two, two star generals waiting there in the freezing cold. And after another hour goes by, they go, well, where are the vegetable vegetables? They say, there are no vegetables. TIt’s just a propaganda exercise. And then one, two star general turns to the other and goes, you know what really burns my ass is the Jews only had to wait one hour.
Omid Djalili (20:25):
Really burns my ass. It just made me laugh. And another Russian joke you see? So the Russians do have a great said to yousense of humour
Paul Boross (20:33):
Oh no, no. It’s exactly. God, we’ve, we’ve worked out world peace. That’s seems, that seems perfect for the Humourology podcast, taking a slight tangent. I’ve heard you say, and I’m slightly offended, but I slightly agree that comedians are people who need the laughter of strangers to validate us. We’re all mentally ill. And it kind of reminded me of what Billy Crystal said about Robin Williams that he needed those little extra hugs that can only get from strangers. Do, do you think that’s ultimately true?
Omid Djalili (21:14):
Well, I saw Robin Williams, many times. I lived in New York doing a show with Whoopi Goldberg. And so I used to go out in the evenings, my family wasn’t with me. So I went to comedy clubs and many times Robin Williams would just show up. What’s he doing here because he’d be like, be on film or he’d be on night off and he’d go down and he would just go and do 40 minutes and he just needed that. And then I saw him for Prince Charles’ 60th birthday. There was a group of us, went to a tiny comedy club called Outside The Box in Kings. And, and it was me. I went on and Michael McIntyre went on and Al Murray Jo Brand, and then, and finally pleased with you welcome Robin Williams. And he got to the stage and the place was going mad.
Omid Djalili (21:58):
And as he was about to open his mouth, someone just shouted Flubber and he went, what? They went Flubber. And he went to pieces. It took him about five minutes to regain. And then I saw him after the next day. I said, you went to pieces when someone said Flubber, he goes, I know, of all the films they mentioned. Why do they have to mention Flubber That just totally floored me. I didn’t have anything to say. I was finished. And I think he goes, I only do these things cause need laughter I need people to… when someone said Flubber that movie was a piece of shit and they mentioned that that just killed him. So he actually had quite a fragile ego and it’s true. We, we do, we do seek the laughter of strangers. I mean, I kind of say it ironically, but I do know that I really resonated with something.
Omid Djalili (22:46):
Dave Chappelle said when he did Jerry Seinfeld’s brilliant Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. Yeah. People saying, when they say things like, is he like that at home? Is he funny at home? And you think, no, the real me is up on stage. What you see? That’s the me, that’s the real me. It’s not just the best part of me. It’s the real me. And I think that that’s why comedians go up there because they find every day existence and being in social situations, actually quite stressful and a little bit anxiety making. Whereas if they know what they’re doing and they can go up there and make a crowd, literally fall about laughing on the ground, laughing with their jokes. That is the real them. That is the best part of them. And I can see, I can see that.
Omid Djalili (23:31):
I can see that in someone like Robin Williams. I was so gobsmacked every time I saw him, he was so good and so quick. And the best part of him was the improvisations because he’d had so much, so much in his comedy bank that from the brain to his mouth, he could improvise like lightening. Quicker than I’ve seen anyone else do it. And that comes from doing it a lot. So, I think we do, we do require the laughter of strangers, but we do also require to be on stage to show the best part. We actually, the real part of who we are.
Paul Boross (24:01):
Yeah, I’m interested. You talk about Rob we’re Williams cause having been at the Comedy Store on three occasions, I think when Robin Williams comes into the dressing room and goes, do you mind if I do a 10 and then you’ll go, No, no it’s Robin Williams the first time. And then he goes on, he does 40, he sucks the living juice out of the room and then you have to follow him and you literally can feel that he has sucked every bit of laughter out of that room.
Omid Djalili (24:35):
Paul Boross (24:35):
But I’m interested you talk about his character and maybe this is a character because is performance the shy person revenge on the world? I.e. this is how I can do it in real life. I mean, we both know a lot of comedians, well, hundreds, if not thousands of comedians who aren’t like that, who don’t do it in that real, but this a space where I like your idea that this is, I can really be the full me.
Omid Djalili (25:12):
Yeah. It’s interesting. And that’s probably why comedians, like spending time with each other. We, we know that we’re all quite damaged and being with other people who are damaged too. We Kind of understand that it’s really good and we’ve kind of, we’re kind of healing each other. That’s the thing. Comedians are very good at healing each other, talking with each other and talking things through. I find some of the best therapists are other comedians who say, why don’t you think that joke worked? And what did you do wrong? What hurt you when you were younger? Tell me, you can talk to me. I’m hurt too. What pissed you off when you were younger? So I think that’s why comedians seek each other out. And when we get on with each other, we talk. We have long car journeys together.
Omid Djalili (25:53):
And they’re very deep, thoughtful thinking people, but God love him. Sean Lock, the times I was with Sean Lock in a car just alone were some of the most precious times, because he was one of those people who never needed to be funny in a car. He was his very real, I, some comedians are very real and they’re very curious. He wanted to know about me. He goes, you’re not a Muslim. You’re a Bahai. Well, what’s the Bahai faith. And he would, he was very curious and really wanted to suck information all the time. And I think that’s what we like with other people who just, you know, we’re always… there’s a big instinct we have as human beings to grow, but also to relax and I find that comedians are some of the most curious people.
Omid Djalili (26:32):
I know cause they want to grow. And then when we relax, we like to laugh while we relax. So we’re either with each other laughing together or watching stuff that makes us laugh. So, it really is a… I always say that laughter is a spiritual quality. We’re the only people… We’re the only species that have the ability to laugh on the planet. I mean, dogs can wag their tails and be amused, but they can’t laugh the way they do. And they say that a belly laugh with regards to endorphins being released as the equivalent to 20 minutes of yoga. So, you know, one laugh. If, if you’re laughing all the time, you don’t really need to do much exercise. That’s my excuse.
Paul Boross (27:11):
We’ll go back to what makes you laugh and how you get those belly laughs. But I’m interested to just go a bit further because it is such a weird job to make people in a darkened room doing an involuntary act.
Omid Djalili (27:27):
It is. And it’s something that, you know, when, when you look at
Omid Djalili (27:32):
to take, for example beautiful actors, men and women, they spend a lot of time working out, they watch what they eat. They perfect, their acting skills. They have acting classes. They have have dialect coaches and, but they want to do that so people are happy to look at them and happy to watch them. Whereas that’s not enough for a comedian. You have to be interesting so people watch you and to elicit this, this laughter this involuntary reaction, so a little bit more needs to be done. I remember I was very lucky to bump into Robert De Niro when he, he bought the film The Infidel written by David Baddiel. And he was saying, the older you get, the more you realise comedy it’s, holy grail. If you can make people laugh, that’s the most difficult thing.
New Speaker (28:27):
It’s amazing being Robert De Niro. People look at me, they think I’m fascinating. And I open my mouth and I’m in a film. It’s great. But to actually make people laugh is next level. So, it is a very, very difficult thing to do. And I think the challenge of that is something that is a science that needs conscious study. It needs to… you need to exercise it in a certain way. And that process of getting there is an extremely satisfying. Um, it it’s like reading a honestly it’s like reading a fabulous book. You know, you sit down for a couple of days with a fabulous book to then do a show. That’s made people andlaugh. It’s tremendously satisfying. There’s a lot of mental illness that goes into that. I know there’s a lot of beating up.
Omid Djalili (29:11):
Like if I didn’t get a standing ovation early on in my career, I’d go back to my hotel room and eat a lot and worry what I’d done and wasn’t enough and nothing’s ever enough and it’s just mental problems. But I think it’s because it’s such a difficult science, it’s something that we have to consciously study and that’s, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. I’ve been listening to stuff, watching stuff and really watching myself as well. And trying to laugh at myself is not often you can, but I think it’s very important. One of your things that we were talking about was do find yourself funny? And I think that’s absolutely essential once you watch yourself and go. That guy’s funny that that’s funny. You haven’t really achieved your potential unless you find yourself funny. And I think and we’re our biggest critics, our own critics. And I think you need to find yourself funny as well.
Paul Boross (30:01):
How important is it to actually not take yourself too seriously? Cause you just talked about that you actually worried about the performance and all those kind of things, but to see the ridiculousness of ourselves,
New Speaker (30:17):
I’ve never taken myself seriously in the sense that I, where I think I’m the fit article. I think we’re, we’re all a work in progress and we’re all in learning mode and I think in that sense, if you’re gonna learn, you shouldn’t take yourself seriously so you can forgive your mistakes. I think that’s a very important thing to do. If you say don’t take yourself, seriously, do take yourself seriously, but forgive yourself mistakes. And, and I think that’s a very important thing in comedy. If I’m mess up jokes, I used to really beat myself up. But now I think, okay, now I’ve just got that wrong, fix it. The next night it’s like even tennis. And I asked tennis player. I said, you’ve done no double thoughts. He goes, because once I’ve done the first serve and it’s hit, like the balls hit the top of the net, you make that adjustment. I’ve just gotta throw the ball up an extra inch higher. And usually that works. So you, you make those adjustments. And I think in life, if we just make adjustments as we go along, that’s so much better than beating yourself up. So in that sense, take yourself seriously. But in a sense, don’t take yourself seriously enough where you don’t learn from your mistakes.
Paul Boross (31:17):
Yeah. And it’s an ongoing process, isn’t it? But the whole thing, you talk about it in terms of comedy, but in terms of life and people getting better in life, I always liken it to – we’re both wearing glasses – when you go to the opticians and, and they do that thing better with this better with that? Just, life’s quite simple when I do it like this, what’s the reaction. Is it better? Go with that.
Omid Djalili (31:43):
Actually, I can give you a little tip. You know, if you’re driving, if you’re driving in torrential rain, did you know? You know, when you can’t see, but let’s say you are in a rush. You need to go 70 miles an hour, but there’s such torrential rain. You you’re going down to 30 or 40. If you put on sunglasses, you can see everything perfectly. Because I was, I was in car with a driver. I said, you’re going too fast. It’s torrential rain. He goes, no, I’m wearing sunglasses. I said, what difference does that make? And he said, ‘ere put them on. And I put them on and you can see clearly. It just takes out all the blurriness for some reason. Just a little tip I wanted to share with you. It’s a like to share with everyone because it’s a very, I’m always late and I’m always in a rush, but I always slow down in rain.
Paul Boross (32:26):
This message was sponsored by Johnny Nash. That’s that’s a one for the older listeners. You talked about laughter as being therapeutic. What makes you laugh?
Omid Djalili (32:40):
I find high drama. Very funny. If I see for example, let’s take the film Aliens. You wouldn’t think there’s fun or there’s humour in that movie, but there is. It’s when an actor plays it so truthfully like when they’re all inside and they’re asking someone to go through a tunnel to put something on a transmitter and Hudson, the guy playing Hudson, he goes, I’m not gonna go there. With all those things crawling around, you can count me out. You can count me out. You gotta be kidding. I’ll be dead. And then Bishop, who is the Android. He goes, I’ll go. You that’s right. Let Bishop go. He should go. It’s just the way he says it. It’s such relief that he doesn’t have to do it. And yeah, such a great idea. He’s he’s that joy, those little moments of truth make me laugh. And I think that’s why for me, there are shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm which are so funny and when they play the truth of the moment and I do know they improvise a lot to get the truth of it. But they still have to do many, many, many takes. And when they’ve done many, many takes that’s when they get the truth of it. So I know Larry David has spoken about it. He goes that, the comedy comes from the truth. If you really hit a truthful moment, it’s hysterical.
Paul Boross (34:02):
Well, you talk about taking a joke too far. I mean, you have talked in your autobiography about crossing the line and I think you were at Edinburg once when where, you were in inverted commas ‘cancelled’ but isn’t that the job of a comedian and how often have you done it and do you still cross the line? in order to find that sweet spot?
Omid Djalili (34:29):
The rules of comedy are there’s, nothing is sacred. And if you can, if you can make it funny, then it’s okay. And I don’t really go by the rules where they say you can’t do accents now. And, you can’t really… That if you’re black, you can talk about racism, but not if you’re white. I mean, I think that’s all nonsense. Um, yes. I think what happens is that comedians in general, we have to be a little bit careful because what makes us laugh, doesn’t always make a mainstream audience laugh. I mean, I’ll tell you something somebody said that made everyone at the Comedy Store laugh. We were all backstage. And there was a comedian called Chris Luby. Do you remember Chris Luby
Paul Boross (35:09):
Yes. I do. Used to do the sounds of aeroplane noises.
Omid Djalili (35:13):
Sounds of aeroplane. Like here’s a marching band. We did it really, really well. And someone who was not a comedian came in, he goes, oh, I very sorry to hear about Chris Luby. We said, what? Well, Chris Luby passed away yesterday. We went, oh no, the sound effects guy. What a shame. And so how did he die? And they said, sadly, he had a fall. I said, wow. He goes, he fell down from the top of the stairs all the way down to the bottom. And Dominic Holland said, did he make the sound effects? And it really made me and we all burst out laughing, but the messenger said, you are all a disgrace. That’s a terrible thing. So, there is that dark humour that comedians have, which we have to be a little bit careful of.
Omid Djalili (35:59):
So there are certain things that, you know, when on the tour bus makes us laugh or other comedians, it doesn’t always translate. And I’ve said quite a few of those things where I’ve said something, that’s made my support act laugh, and he goes, don’t do that on stage. And I said, why not? It made you laugh. He goes, yeah, but I’m a disgraceful human being. I laugh at.. Not like that. Don’t say it, then I’d do it on stage. And he said, I told you, the audience were with you until you said that – two people walked out. So it is a line. And I think there, some of the lines are actually like the example I just gave you getting humour out of human suffering. It’s a very difficult one. It’s I don’t like certain jokes. I mean, there was one joke that was being lorded.
Omid Djalili (36:44):
And I remember thinking that’s not a good joke. That’s a terrible joke. It was the day after 9/11 at the Comedy Store. And I think somebody’s phone went off in the crowd and somebody said, oh, that’s not the 110th floor again. And it was the real reference back to people ringing in distress about to die. And it didn’t get a laugh. And rightly so. And I remember some comedians said, oh, that guy’s a genius. What a clever, clever thing. And I remember thinking, yeah, it may be clever cuz he thought of something to say, but that was the wrong thing to say. And it was never gonna get a laugh. So I think that we, we have to be a little bit careful as comedians. If you wanna laugh, if you want, if you want an audience of 400 for one person say, well, that was a clever, that was a clever improv; if you want that, that’s fine. But surely we can, we can reach for something higher. So I just think that making light of terrible human suffering is a challenge. It’s not impossible but it’s a challenge. It’s something I don’t normally do myself.
Paul Boross (37:45):
No. And but it’s interesting because we have people like John Sweeney on the show and you know, I used to work with surgeons and when people live in a high pressured environment and you could call comedy a high pressured psychologically because it’s the thing that people fear the most, public speaking, they do have a darker sense of humour in order to cope. That’s just the way it is
Omid Djalili (38:12):
Soldiers, Naval officer, a lot of doctors. There’s a lot of humour that’s shared amongst them, amongst them like comedians. We share humour amongst ourselves, which actually a lot of people either won’t get or wouldn’t actually think they’re a disgrace for joking about those kinds of things, but that’s their want and that’s their prerogative so we have to respect that.
Paul Boross (38:32):
Well, yeah. I accept that Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette did the film, The Aristocrats, which we’ve talked about the offscreen, about the joke that nobody can tell on stage and
Omid Djalili (38:49):
Paul Boross (38:50):
So we’d like tell it now Omid
Omid Djalili (38:59):
I actually cause one of my favourite jokes, it’s really interesting. What makes me laugh. And if people always ask me, what is, what’s your favourite joke? I mean,
Omid Djalili (39:09):
I do think things are silly and I do think that brevity brevity is the soul of wit. So I think there’s a Tim Vine joke that always made me giggle. I remember when, when he said it the first time and he said it in the middle of a 20 minute set when I watched him first and it was like, is this it is that all you’re gonna do puns? And then there was a bit where the audience go oh, God, is that it all? And he keeps doing puns. He keeps doing puns and they think, oh God, he’s gonna do 20. You look at your watching this 10 minutes in, he’s got another 10 minutes to go. This is the act. And then he just suddenly said, Velcro, what a rip off. And I just fell about.
Omid Djalili (39:44):
It was the most stupid. It wasn’t even, he just throw it with no context, Velcro, what a rip off. And it really made me giggle to my core. And I think that, that’s the thing. When you, when you find things that are silly and absurd like that… Life is absurd and anything that kind of kind of pinpoints the essential absurdity of existence in such a devastatingly brief way as that, then that’s something that it just uplifts me. I don’t know why, but it just made me it more than makes me smile. It makes me think Tim Vine knows the secret of the universe by coming up with something like that.
Paul Boross (40:22):
Yeah. No, well he is brilliant. I’m interested in this secret of the universe, because we briefly touched on the fact that, you know, people’s number one, fear is public speaking. Obviously you have been doing it all your life, for our listeners. What’s the best tip for engaging an audience quickly?
Omid Djalili (40:45):
I think look, I know a lot of business, people love to open with a joke and it’s kind of the only joke they have. That they put in a keynote speech, they put a specifically a laser guided joke somewhere to get the audience on their side. I think speaking slowly and clearly I’m a big fan of people who do that. I was asked to speak to the audience, to the crowd actually at Ipswich Town football club recently. And I put it out on Twitter that I’m gonna do a halftime show. And they were saying, we’re not gonna hear it because the tannoy is so bad. But I noticed that the stadium announcer always had the microphone too close to his mouth and he spoke too quickly. And then with the massive echo, you can’t follow. So it’s important if you’re speaking to a big crowd to speak slowly and clearly. So when I spoke,, I think I said very clearly, it’s amazing that at the Super Bowl, their halftime show had Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog and Mary J Blige. Then I waited, cuz they know there’s a joke coming and there’s a little laugh. I said, whereas you guys get the bloke who had his knackers squeezed by Oliver Reed in Gladiator.
Omid Djalili (41:59):
And the fact there was a laugh there and everybody could hear it. So I just spoke slowly and clearly. And I was very clear on every word I was going to say. So actually, preparing what you’re gonna say is very important. And then delivering it slowly and deliberately, I think that’s for public speaking, depending on how… there was 21,000 people there at Portman Road but then once you’ve engaged them, then you can, you have the confidence to carry on in the same way, cuz then they said, why did you move to Ipwsich? And I said, I came here to have a hip replacement and it went so well that I decided to stay. So I’m the first person to come to Ipswitch for a hip switch and it was so silly. They laughed at that as well.
Omid Djalili (42:50):
Then after that you can say anything. So I think that if your first two… I’m, I’m not a fan of just one opening joke for business people. You need two opening jokes. So, it’s a bit of a secret tip, throw in two jokes at the beginning because then throw in one joke and then you, you speak, then they think, okay, he just used a joke to get our attention, but throw in a second joke. They’re there. Hey, he could do a joke at any time. So my tip is always do two jokes at the front.
Paul Boross (43:21):
What I love about you. And I really got from watching you on stage and also from the reading, the book Hopeful, -which I highly recommend – you talk about being hopeful. You are ultimately the most hopeful person. You’ve got a bravery and a hopefulness. And I love the thing about, from a psychological perspective that 95% of all your emotions, both positive and negative are influenced by how you talk to yourself. Are you naturally talking in an way and do you have to be optimistic in order to follow what is the hardest profession?
Omid Djalili (44:02):
Yes. And, and this is where sport comes in because I played football and I’ve had training where when you’re at school, the teacher, we had a great soccer teacher and he would always give us the team talk was very important. What he’s said always affected us. And he’d always say the very end, and go out and enjoy it. That was his thing. He’d always say enjoy it. And if I’d be moaning, he’d say enjoy it, come on, let’s enjoy it. And that’s the one thing I always tell myself ,enjoy it because – and I’m not just talking about my set – I’m talking about life in general. You only get one life. You know, when you, when you eat, you eat as if you’re eating your last meal, enjoy, enjoy every moment, except for when you wake up. I never enjoy waking up.
Omid Djalili (44:46):
And even then I try and do things to make sure I get a cup of coffee or some water so I can enjoy waking up. But I think in enjoying things and having that sport kind of like, come on and encouragement. That’s the way I talk to myself. I gee myself up, like as if I would be geeing up a football team, or if I was a footballer, say, come on, you can do it. I do a lot of that thing. You know, just be focused, be strong. You know, I give myself, I know some comedians have that thing in the mirror. They go, I’m funny. I know I’m funny. I’ve got the right to be here. They give themselves mantras and it actually works for some people. I’m funny. I know I’m funny and I’ve got the right to be here. I think that’s really funny that people do that, but I’m very much sport orientated and never getting beaten. That was a big thing. I’m not gonna get beaten by this crowd. I’m gonna win. And often when we go somewhere and it’s an all white audience and it’s like the ass end of nowhere, I’ll always come away. So that was, that was an away win. That was an away win. They didn’t expect me to do well, but that’s an away win. So I think in sport terms, and that really helps me get through it.
Paul Boross (45:47):
No, I’m fascinated by the whole sport terms because there is a great analogy there because every great comedian is like every, let’s just say footballer. And when you, you interview them afterwards you’ll hear them say, well, actually,I just was in the zone; flow state. I had a lot of time. I saw the ball coming over and it seemed to be slow motion. I received the heckle and I just had loads of time to respond and I was in control and there are a lot of analogies there. And it’s how you set up. We go back to the word state, how you set up that state and what you are doing is setting up a good state in order to allow yourself to succeed.
Omid Djalili (46:35):
Yes, I think having the right state, I mean, certainly you can’t go on stage. If you’ve had an argument with someone, you can’t go on stage. If you’ve had a terrible telephone call. You need to have, I always need 10 minutes of silence and 10 minutes of kind of, you know, just telling myself that. I mean, my support act is Boothby Graffoe.
Paul Boross (46:57):
Oh, he’s great.
Omid Djalili (46:58):
He’s fantastic. But he says always remember the Tory power stance. I said, what’s that? He goes, you stand like this. He goes, and he was saying, that is such a big thing that no matter what they say to you, you are in control. I said, why is that a Tory thing? He goes, because cause all the Tories do it. They’re always, they’re told to stand with their legs apart and arms like this. Cause it’s very powerful. It’s almost Roman. It’s like Emperor esque way of attacking life. I mean, that is good. But also another aspect which gets you in you in a good state, which is a more humble thing actually, is to realise you are in a service industry and that you are there to serve an audience. And I think that’s where I’ve seen the difference between the great comedians and the also rans. Because the also rans a doing it just for themselves. They come away saying, I stormed it. Oh yeah, they love me. Whereas a true comedian was saying, I serviced the crowd tonight. They got their money’s worth. I was value. And people go away saying they really enjoyed that. And I think that’s the difference. If you have a service… if you have a service orientated attitude towards your, work.
Paul Boross (48:10):
I think that’s fabulous. Absolutely fabulous. So take it on a macro scale. Can you be a good communicator without understanding the essence of humour? Or do you think you only reach a certain level because we’ve had politicians on here and you know, talked about communication. I think you are comparatively one dimensional. If you, if you don’t under have that extra dimension to you.
Omid Djalili (48:36):
Yeah. I think you, no, no. You can be good communicators. I know Vladimir Putin just gave an, address in a stadium in Russia and he communicated very well. He was walking around like a standup comedian. Did you see that? He was wearing a duffle coat? I mean, he, he was adopting stances of comedians. Donald Trump is a great communicator.
Paul Boross (48:57):
Good yeah. I’m not sure that great can happen without humour, but I’m just putting that out there. I’m not sure that you said, you said good for Putin. And then you, we went to great for, for Trump. I’m still not sure that great. Is there, if you can’t do humour?
Omid Djalili (49:17):
Well, I said great for Trump on purpose because for his people he does employ humour. I think that’s the thing. He does at his rallies. I mean, you and I will watch some of those jokes and think that’s a disgraceful joke, but they’ll be pissing themselves laughing because he does jokes for that crowd. He always, even when he was making fun of a journalist and saying he was that it was awful for like, oh God, how can you do that? The crowd were laughing. So he was trying to be funny. So, he was still employing humour for his crowd. So that’s why I called him. Great.
Paul Boross (49:51):
It was interesting.
Omid Djalili (49:54):
I didn’t see Vladimir Putin employing any humour, but I see Trump at least trying. I remember seeing Trump. I remember seeing Trump when I lived in New York in 2003, I remember watching him. He was on New York television all the time, giving out checks to charities and being very funny. I remember watching him going, he should be president this guy. I’d vote for him because he’s charismatic. And he was not the Trump he became post president. But before, and we’re talking about 13, 14 years before, he was running very charismatic, very humorous, you know, loved stand comedians. He was on Saturday Night Live. He hosted Saturday Night Live, you know? So that’s why I say he has this sense of humour. So he was, that’s one of the reasons, Yeah, exactly
Paul Boross (50:39):
For his crowd. We’ve reached th part of the show which we like to call Quickfire Questions,
Musical Sting (50:46):
Paul Boross (50:49):
Who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met now. You’ve met every comedian and, and every actor, but I mean, they could be in the film business. They could be in general business, but somebody who’s not just a comedian,
Omid Djalili (51:04):
There’s a businessman. I have met, very briefly who sells fish in an east end market. I don’t know if you’ve seen him. It’s a video called one pound fish and it’s got like 8 million views. And by the way, every million views you get for a video, you get £5,000 pounds. So that’s already, it’s £40,000 pounds. That’s a great video he’s made, which is, he just goes, Come on ladies ladies, Come on ladies, one pound fish, five pound, six pound, one pound fish goes one pound fish. It’s, it’s the most ridiculous video, but he is the most successful fishery in east London. So he sells fish from one pound and the song made a most celebrity in that think that he’s last. I heard, he went, his business went crazy and he packed up and he’s retired now, so that I think definitely he’s employed humour to push his business spectacularly.
Paul Boross (52:01):
Brilliant answer. What book makes you laugh Omid?
Omid Djalili (52:06):
Harry Hill is one of the funniest comedians and his autobiography is very, very funny. It’s just laugh a minute, really. And if you’re a comedian, it’s a very, it’s a great book to learn about how a junior doctor got into, um, comedy and, um, and how he went from being an act that would constantly get booed off stage and then became a household name. So it’s a fascinating read.
Paul Boross (52:28):
You have been in loads and loads of films. What film makes you laugh?
Omid Djalili (52:34):
I dunno why that even today, I think having it depends when you see a film again, like I really love The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman and I watched it periodically in my twenties and my thirties and my forties. I’ve just watched it again. It’s even funnier. There’s so many moments I’ve missed watching that film. It’s a great comedy. It’s a really funny comedy and with a, with a typical boyhood thing, and people watch that show, they watch that film when they’re like in their adolescence. They think life is romantic, but it’s… The more I read about it now, it really is a book about the failure of the American dream. And it’s quite a serious film about how the youth of America have gone a stray and they worry about generations to come. And it’s actually, it’s a very deep movie, but it’s a very funny movie. So they employ humour to make some quite serious points about the American dream. And, and I just think that’s one of the most uncomfortably funny film and seeing it again in my fifties and hands down one of the best movies ever made,
Paul Boross (53:39):
I can’t remember. Was it Mike Nichols who made that?
Omid Djalili (53:41):
Mike Nichols, Yeah. Fantastic director.
Paul Boross (53:43):
Oh, that’s fantastic. We touched on this before, so we don’t have to do very long because I think you’ve already answered it, but what is not funny? Is there anything that cuz you kind of said, you know, there are things that make you uncomfortable, but what is, is there something particularly that makes you go no that’s too far.
Omid Djalili (54:05):
Yeah. Do you know what, what I really, this is honestly I feel this. What I think is so like the, the spirit of, what’s not funny, especially you see it on social media or people like people trying to do a joke and someone going, that’s not funny. And that doesn’t help. People who say that’s not funny does not help because it doesn’t make it funnier. It does. I’ve never heard of a joke that’s been made better when you say that’s not funny. I sometimes do a story of how I did something that people didn’t laugh and people… But no one’s saying, if someone is out there to tell you, that’s not funny stop doing it, I find that offensive. And that’s like the least funny thing it’s one of my big bug bears. Maybe it’s not the right answer to the question, but it’s a bug bear of mine when people say not funny. And I’ve had that quite a lot socially and on stage, not funny, you know, it’s a very English thing, but it’s a really it’s and I see another cultures. *speaking in Persian*. I would people say, I did not think that was funny at all. I just think that if you don’t think something’s funny, well be polite and say nothing or laugh or laugh. Do some false laughter. Lie. and laugh.
Paul Boross (55:20):
Yeah. I, I love the idea of the arrogance of going. I’ve decided that’s not funny. And so therefore it’s not,
Omid Djalili (55:27):
I’m speaking for everyone. I just think that’s really wrong. That really upsets me.
Paul Boross (55:31):
Yeah, I understand that. What sound makes you laugh?
Omid Djalili (55:35):
If you speak to most comedians, the sound that makes them giggle, like, you know, you know, when an audience laughs and then the comedian starts laughing. That only ever happens – and, and I know this across, it’s not just like a funny laugh. It’s specifically the hysterical laughter of a woman, a middle aged woman. Well, cause when a middle aged woman thinks you’re funny, that’s the ultimate, that’s the ultimate validation for a middle aged man. When a middle aged woman has lost it. I think that for me is what makes me giggle. Cuz then I know of, she’s really seen the humour of it and then I enjoy the humour again and it makes me laugh afresh. So, so my favourite laugh is the laughter of middle aged women.
Paul Boross (56:18):
Oh wonderful. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?
Omid Djalili (56:23):
Funny, because, because to be funny, you have to be extremely clever. So clever is like a half… Clever is a half compliment. If someone says you’re funny. If a woman says you, you you’re clever. He goes, but if you seen that song by Salt N Peppa, you so crazy. I think I wanna have your baby. Which means you’ve gone a bit further than just be clever. You are funny and that’s an extra, that’s an extra level to it.
Paul Boross (56:49):
Oh, that’s brilliant. And finally, Omid Desert Island Gags, you can only take one joke with you to a desert island. What is it?
Omid Djalili (56:59):
Um, wow. There are so many jokes that I like. And I think my favourite joke of all time was a joke that Barry Cryer told me, and I would take this to desert island and, if you’ve done, I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue. He goes, you’re on the list now. And I said, what’s that? He goes, we call each other up. If we’ve got a good joke, we tell each other jokes. You might get a call. So about a month later he goes, Omid, Bazz Cryer here. He goes, you know, I like parrot jokes. I said, yeah. He goes, you know, I like Jewish jokes. I said, yeah, he goes, I’ve got a Jewish parrot joke. And some people have heard this, but the joke is a Jewish man wants to buy a parrot. And he goes, all these parrots are 20 equid.
Omid Djalili (57:39):
There’s a special one. He’s special because he can recite the Jewish prayer for the dead. He goes rubbish. I wanna see it. And they lift up the curtain and there’s a parrot going, *Parrot speaking Yiddish*. This is amazing. I’ll take it . He pays a hundred pounds. Takes this parrot that can do the prayer for the dead and tells the whole synagogue. I’ve got a parrot here that can do the prayer for the dead people. Just rubbish. He goes, who wants a bet? Hymie – I’ll take 50 pounds, Schlomo 50 pounds. He takes the bats from everyone, tells the parrot to do it. And the parrot doesn’t do anything. He goes, do the prayer for the dead. The parrot is schtum. People start rustling and getting upset. They want their money back. He’s paying all the money back and he’s completely broke and he takes the parrot home. He goes, why didn’t you do the prayer when I asked you and the parrot says, Hymie,think of the odds next week. It’s just such a perfect, (brilliant) It’s the perfect Jewish parrot joke.
Paul Boross (58:33):
Oh, it’s the perfect Jewish parrot joke. And you have been the perfect state change for us and brought us so much joy. Omid, thank you so much for being on the Humourology podcast.
Omid Djalili (58:44):
Great to be here, Paul. Thank you.
Paul Boross (58:47):
The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks music by Steve Haworth, creative direction by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe like and lever review, wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.