Shappi Khorsandi

'Racism can be a beautiful thing.' British-Iranian comedienne propounds Halal Guinness and epidurals for all

If heritage is anything to go by, Shappi Khorsandi has the genetic potential to cause comedic controversy. Her father fled to London from Iran in the 1970s after his public sending up of elements of Islamic culture resulted in an assassination plot on his life. 

Yet Khorsandi presents herself as far from a caustic and biting satirist, maintaining that she is ‘more Blue Peter than street’. She opens at the Out to Lunch Festival with an anecdote on Morris-dancing, and her live set is littered with references to Enid Blyton stories and yummy-mummies. 

However, the London-based comic's frazzled mother who is just happy to be out of the house persona is certainly a front. Khorsandi tackles numerous cosy middle-class topics with cutting remarks and close-to-the-bone jokes. 

Fertility, birthing pools and private schools are undercut with references to rape, adultery and stabbings, none of which come across as gratuitous and go down surprisingly well with the audience, given that lunchtime on a Wednesday afternoon is not a typical stand-up time-slot.

Khorsandi is happy to poke fun at the yummy-mummy lifestyle she has slowly found herself sucked in to. She recommends the epidural she received when giving birth as the new cocaine, and singing Anglican hymns aloud to repel boorish hoodies with loud MP3 players on buses.

The majority of her references are based on notably English foibles, and the British-Iranian frequently refers to her family’s particular cultural perspective that blends Iranian influences with a Western upbringing. 

The Belfast audience lap up every word. Khorsandi’s material is universal in her sending up of herself and her family – on finding a fellow Iranian in the audience she reveals her fear that ‘all Iranian people somehow must know my grandmother’, a dread familiar to any Irish abroad.

Khorsandi makes great use of her experience of being an assimilated immigrant, with numerous light-hearted anecdotes on racism, xenophobia and religious prejudice that also laugh off political correctness and cloying cultural inclusiveness. ‘Racism can be a beautiful thing -  everyone is a little bit racist, that’s what brings us together.'

She addresses any assumptions of her religious adherences by maintaining that her pint of Guinness is Halal – the hops were harvested in a humane fashion. The Guinness is one of very few references to the homeland of her audience, and her lack of ingratiating and tired Northern Irish clichés is refreshing. Belfast will be keen to welcome back Iranian humour very soon. 

Hilary Copeland