SHAPPI Khorsandi is extending her 2019 tour into 2020, bringing her self-reflective show Skittish Warrior…Confessions Of A Club Comic to Pocklington Arts Centre on February 16.
Comedian, author and “idiot who agreed to be tortured” on I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here in 2017, Khorsandi takes a warts-and-all journey back to the 1990s’ comedy scene, her breakthrough on TV and then letting it all slip away in her 20 years as a stand-up.
“The show is a good opportunity to look back on how it all began,” she says. “It talks about the bits that stand-ups don’t usually talk about, those behind-the-scenes moments where doors get slammed in your face. It’s about rediscovering that early passion. It’s a celebration of the comedy circuit.”
Building the show around cultural observations and confessional gags, Khorsandi says: “I hope people will take away a great sense of warmth and a lot of heart. The show is saying it’s OK to be exactly who you are. The only person you should ever compete with is yourself.”
Skittish Warrior looks at the “funny side of failure”. “It’s an ode to being an underdog. We celebrate the underdog. I have to do that. I don’t have a choice,” says Khorsandi.
“But it’s not doom and gloom. I’m perfectly happy. I’m not cut out for a tabloid level of fame. After 20 years, I feel completely comfortable with the fact that I’m vulnerable. It’s OK to say, ‘I’ve messed up so many things’.
“It’s about realising that if you didn’t get something, it wasn’t what you wanted anyway. If it was very important for me to do well on panel shows, I wouldn’t have been daydreaming on panel shows!”
Born in Tehran, Iran, Shappi is the daughter of the Iranian political satirist and poet Hadi Khorsandi and moved to Britain as a child after the Islamic Revolution. In her twenties, she began performing in comedy clubs, going on to appear on a multitude of TV shows, be a panellist on ITV1’s Loose Women and BBC One’s Question Time and write two books, A Beginner’s Guide To Acting English in 2009 and her debut novel, Nina Is Not OK, in 2016.
A play based on the novel is on its way, and already she has a musical comedy to her name, Women In Power, inspired by Aristophanes’s ancient Greek comic play The Assembly Women, co-written with fellow comedians Jenny Éclair and Natalie Haynes for a run at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, in September 2018.
On the radio, Khorsandi has hosted the BBC Radio 4 series Shappi Talk, Homework and Shappi Khorsandi Gets Organised, as well as appearing on Loose Ends, Front Row, Midweek and Today.
Recalling how it all began, 46-year-old Khorsandi says: “I feel very thankful that when I started out in comedy, it was punk. The ultimate aim was to play the clubs, not telly. That’s why my new show is a love letter to the comedy clubs.
“I was a nervous wreck at the start. It was terrifying. I would phone the Comedy Store for an open spot, and if they picked up, I would put the phone down. I was treading water for the first ten years. It’s a sort of madness to carry on doing something that is so precarious. But I always knew that there was nothing else along my Yellow Brick Road.”
Celebrity has its pitfalls, she acknowledges. “It’s about really understanding what a full-time job it is to be famous and to stay there. It has to be at the cost of everything else. Instagram posts don’t post themselves!”
In 2017, that celebrity status led to Khorsandi taking part in ITV’s reality TV show I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!. “It changed my life. Because you’re hungry and have nothing to do in the jungle, it forces you to look at your life,” she says. “While I was in there, my life was going on without me. I realised there was no other life I wanted, and I desperately wanted to be back in it.
“Some people may see I’m A Celebrity as crass, but it bought me time to re-evaluate my life. I realised what I didn’t want: to be on the front page of The Sun. That’s not worth anything. Doing stand-up, writing plays and books; those things have value and they were the things I wanted to come back to.”
Hence her tour of Skittish Warrior…Confessions Of A Club Comic, now bolstered with more shows in 2020. “I get an absolute adrenaline rush on stage. For me, it’s always been about the live stuff,” she says.
Time for reflection at the year’s end. “I look back on my career and see all the times I’ve sabotaged it. But if I had really wanted it, I would have got it,” says Khorsandi.” I’ve got two kids, and I really wanted them. It may sound cheesy, but they’re my greatest successes.”
Shappi Khorsandi: Skittish Warrior…Confessions Of A Club Comic, Pocklington Arts Centre, Sunday, February 16 2020, 7.30pm. Tickets: £15 on 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.