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Shappi Khorsandi: Dirty Looks and Hopscotch
Published on Monday, 06 August 2012
4

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
Comedy
1-12, 14-26 Aug, 8:30pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Liam McKenna

 Recommended for age 14+ only.
 Recommended for age 16+ only.

It’s a grim, rainy Sunday; I’m scouring the deepest corners of the Pleasance Courtyard – avoiding the clammy hands of flyerers – in search of an elusive venue which, it turns out, isn’t all that elusive if you just follow the signs. There’s a slight pre-occupation with a certain 100m final, which becomes evident when I join the even slighter queue. And I’m not here to see a previously unknown comedian. This is for Shappi Khorsandi. She’s been on the telly.

Up a few flights of punishing stairs, Khorsandi is in the doorway to greet everyone – and to check on the welfare of those still catching their breath. Inside the dimly lit theatre she takes a moment to shuffle people about until the front row is filled, and then begins by showing us a book from primary school in which she wrote about Iran and its people, and their varying skin colours. And so, she tells us, began her obsession with race.

There is a bit of a misconception when it comes to Khorsandi’s material. Due to her appearances on TV, it’s easy to put her in a box and accuse her of limiting her comedy to jokes about her country of origin. She admits she has to put up with abuse on Twitter etc., where she is often attacked by sour people who claim the only reason she is successful is because she is Iranian and a woman. “Two key elements you need to appear on a Radio 4 panel show,” she says.

In reality her comedy is varied. Iranian jokes are always going to be a part of her, because Iran is a part of her. The show is deeply personal. It’s mainly about a love affair Khorsandi had with an unnamed ageing rockstar. “A man,” she says, “whose idea of safe sex is Radox and hope.”

It is something that she knew almost immediately would make a good show. It’s evocative as well as painfully funny, and at times awkward. It has a point. Something told her she was being played with – that this man was no good for her – yet she persisted with him. A common story, perhaps, but it still has frightening undertones. There are points when the comedy momentarily stops, because it’s almost too serious to actually laugh; but then Khorsandi spins it round, with effortless timing, to bring out some of the biggest laughs of the night – out of relief, if anything.

At times it’s like we’re hearing snippets from Khorsandi’s sexual autobiography. Weaved in between the main crux of narrative she talks about her sexual awakening; her first kiss with an Iranian refugee in a block of flats outside Paris, her fears of ‘catching ignorance’, dealing with her mum’s naivety of her sex life, and her dad knowing too much. She muses on sexism, and ageism: the problems of being a woman over 35 and that term she despises which gets bandied about describing women of a certain age. And this leads on to a lighter note concerning women: “Make looks your policy, and you end up doing acrobatics at a dinner party.”

Despite feeling a fool getting into such a bleak relationship, there is a happy ending. There is a realisation that something as simple as going for a pee or listening to your son can ‘break the spell’. And after sampling life as a lesbian – when a girlfriend pleads her to send kisses in texts, and not to forget her – she concludes, tongue firmly in cheek: “women are hard work.”

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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