Jason Alexander, who played nervous ball of angst George Kostanza in Seinfeld, recently met Israel's president Shimon Peres to discuss the Middle East. The Israeli press inevitably asked the actor and campaigner if humour had a role to play the peace process, Alexander replied in the negative "because someone is always going to be offended".
While punchlines or whole routines can be more effective than the pithiest of soundbites, or most moving of speeches, there are limits to comedy (the elasticity of which depends on the individual comedian of course) as a medium for a message and this was something that another cuddly comedy performer, Omid Djalili, found to his cost tonight while attempting to broker a similar kind of understanding between races.
As an Anglo-Iranian, the comic and actor has always projected himself as a kind of ambassador for multi-ethnicity, though without ever developing ideas sufficiently that they would get in the way of a funny voice or some gratuitous payoffs. He illustrates this tonight when he suggests that the best way to dispel racism "is to talk back at people in their accent". This is merely a cue for Djalili to flex his impersonation of Nigerians; moreover, while he claims it was well received, the advice accidentally sounds like a premise for playground racism.
In another routine, the portly performer explains that his ethnic mix means that his responses to Lady Gaga and Prince Charles are double-edged. He employs a rather obvious stereotype where his Iranian side is hard-line and fundamentalist. Although he maintains that he wants to keep some distance between himself and easy categorisations, it's clear the 46-year-old still relies on some rather obvious shorthand.
Despite the frustrations with his act, it is hard not to be reasonably disposed to this warm and charming figure and even forgive the name-dropping of films he has been in. This is more easily done given that his credits include Sex and the City 2, a film he basically apologises for, pleading that "you don't always get to see the scripts beforehand".
It transpires that, during the filming of the TV spin-off, Sex and the City creator Michael Patrick King accuses Djalili of "telegraphing the funny". It's not an unfair criticism, but it is one that Djalili obsesses about and then ripostes well with a parody of Carrie Bradshaw's column titles: "By flagging up my comedy does my comedy flag?"
Touring to 25 February (www.omiddjalili.com)Reuse content