Monday, 20 January 2020

‘Self-sabotaging’ comic still has warrior spirit

‘Self-sabotaging’ comic still has warrior spirit

HER celebrity status may have been cemented by being asked to appear on the 2017 edition of I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! but Shappi Khorsandi can still remember what it was like to climb the showbiz ladder.

So much so that her current touring show Skittish Warrior is subtitled “confessions of a club comic” and offers audiences a warts and all journey through the late Nineties comedy scene.

Along the way the popular
stand-up reflects on how she broke through on television before letting it all slip away — sort of.

As Shappi tells it, stand-up has undergone a huge transformation over the past 20 years.

“It’s really changed,” she says. “It’s got cleaner and more sober and a lot more career-minded. You meet 20-year-olds on the comedy circuit now who have a five-year plan. I’m sure stand-up is something careers advisers at top private schools are telling their students to do. ‘You don’t want to go into the markets or the law, you want to go into stand-up.’”

Things have certainly changed a great deal from when Shappi first trod the boards two decades ago.

“I feel very thankful that when I started out in comedy, it was punk,” she says. “The ultimate aim was to play the clubs, not telly. That’s why my new show is a love letter to the comedy clubs.

“The show is a good opportunity to look back on how it all began. 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.”

Shappi recalls that when she was starting out in comedy she was a nervous wreck.

“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 10 years. It’s a sort of madness to carry on doing something so precarious. But I always knew there was nothing else along my Yellow Brick Road.”

True to form, Skittish Warrior will home in on those moments when Shappi was her own worst enemy.

“I’m the queen of sabotage!” she laughs. “You go through your early career thinking the best thing is to be very famous, but the chances I’ve had to become very famous I’ve completely scuppered.”

For example? “I was a guest on 8 Out of 10 Cats but I started daydreaming and completely lost the thread. When Jimmy Carr asked ‘Shappi, what do you think?’ I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. I was daydreaming about becoming famous on the job that would have made me famous if I’d done it better!”

Despite coming across brilliantly well on stage, Shappi is not one of life’s natural schmoozers.

“When I was young I’d meet a top agent and think it would be hilarious if I told them about gigs where I’d died on my arse. That didn’t inspire them to propel me further.”

A showbiz party she was invited to was another occasion on which she signally failed to schmooze.

“Looking around the room, I had clearly only just made the cut. The only person beneath me was a woman who was an extra on EastEnders.

“Thankfully, I met a guy who told me ‘I live upstairs. The celebrity only invites me to his parties so I don’t complain about the noise.’

“I chatted to this guy the whole time about his dog. I didn’t chat to anyone else or get any famous people’s phone numbers.”

Despite her eventual success, the funny side of failure is clearly a subject dear to Shappi’s heart.

“This show is an ode to being an underdog,” she laughs. “We celebrate the underdog. I have to — I don’t have a choice!”

Shappi’s experience of showbiz snakes and ladders turns out to have had its own rewards, and the show reflects her deep sense of contentment with where she is at.

“It’s not doom and gloom,” she says. “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 okay 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.

“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. I’ve got two kids and I really wanted them. It may sound cheesy, but they’re my greatest successes.”

Fame is very far from being the be all and end all for Shappi, who adds: “It’s about 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!”

Two years ago, Shappi reached a whole new audience when she appeared on I’m a Celebrity.

“It changed my life,” she says now. “Because you’re hungry and have nothing to do in the jungle, it forces you to look at your life. 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 reevaluate 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.”

Above all, Shappi is relishing her return to stand-up. She thrives on the buzz of live performance.

“That’s the most exciting part. It’s the joy of the job. I get an absolute adrenaline rush on stage. For me, it’s always been about the live stuff.”

What does she want audiences to take away from the show?

“I hope people will take away a great sense of warmth and a lot of heart. The show is saying it’s okay to be exactly who you are. The only person you should ever compete with is yourself.”

With a laugh, she adds: “That’s quite wise. Write that down: ‘Shappi wisely said’!”

• Shappi Khorsandi plays Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Thursday, February 27. The show starts at 8pm and is recommended for ages 14 and up. Tickets are £15. For more information and to book, call the box office on 01628 788997 or visit www.nordenfarm.org

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