‘Blackpool really is the Las Vegas of the north’

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When Omid Djalili sweeps into town next week, Blackpool will get a lot more than just a stand-up comedian.

Djalili, the 47-year-old born to Iranian parents but raised in London, is headlining the Saturday night of the resort’s annual comedy festival – Comedy Carpet Live (Paul Merton performs on the Sunday, tickets are still available for both nights).

Djalili has a hell of a CV - since making his name at the Edinburgh Fringe in the mid 90s he has appeared in films like Gladiator, The Mummy and Sex and the City 2; appeared as Fagin in the West End production of Oliver; become the voice of smash-hit computer game Grand Theft Auto; and narrated for the London Philharmonia Orchestra.

Not bad going really...

Stand-up remains his favourite way of making a living, though, and the people of Blackpool can expect a fine show when Djalili takes the stage at the Opera House.

The man himself is looking forward to it too.

“You hear about Blackpool being the Las Vegas of the north and raise your eyes a bit. But it’s true, it’s a brilliant place, especially for entertainers,” he said.

“I’ve actually been to the town quite a lot because I was raised in the Bahaya community and we used to have our annual conferences at the Winter Gardens.

“In fact when I was about 12, in the 1970s, I went on stage to do a Norman Collier impression.

“I never thought then I’d come back as an adult and perform on that same stage and that’s why when I was asked to do this, I jumped at the chance.

“It is a bit of a homecoming in that sense.”

Djalili’s humour isn’t exactly like the Blackpool comics of yesteryear, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a fan of them.

“I admire all the comics who’ve performed here. I love Les Dawson, he was absolutely hilarious,” he said.

“As a comedian you can’t just look at yourself and say ‘I’m great’. You always have to doff your cap to the people who have come before you.

“If a poet wants to be a great poet they have to look at the traditions in their own country and read the people that have come before them. It’s the same with comedy.

“Take someone like Bernard Manning. Whatever people say about him being racist, he was genuinely funny. It’s taking it too far to say I’m a fan of his but I can recognise that some of his observations were spot on.”

Djalili also believes it is different holding the attention of an audience in Blackpool than it is in some other places.

“If you go to a comedy store and watch some comedians, many of those would never be able to do well in Blackpool. It is a niche thing,” he explained.

“Some comedians seemto think Edinburgh is the be all and end all. But when they go elsewhere they sometimes struggle.

“Mind you that happens to us all, no matter how big we get. You always have to remember that whatever you do, there will be people who don’t like you.

“Comedy is subjective, so you might see someone yawning or texting at one of your gigs. As long as you’re aware and accept that not everybody will find you funny, then you’ll be fine.”

Djalili comes across as a terrific bloke on the phone, very chatty and engaging.

He is also clearly incredibly talented and after his Blackpool date, heads to the Edinburgh Festival to play the role of Red in a stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption.

“Me playing Red probably sounds odd to those who’ve seen the film,” he said. “But the character is not ethnic specific. In the book, Red is Irish. For the film they just wanted the polar opposite to Tim Robbins.

“I enjoy playing serious roles. My background is in straight theatre - I just got into stand-up by accident.”

In which case, he hasn’t done too badly for himself.

To see Djalili – supported by Mark Watson and others - at Comedy Carpet Live on Saturday July 27 (or to see Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns the following day) head to www.visitblackpool.com/comedy live or call the box office on 01253 478222.