Shappi Khorsandi: interview

Shappi Khorsandi Shappi Khorsandi
Posted: Tue Mar 30 2010

Shappi Khorsandi talks to Time Out about dancing on telly, pre-performance nerves and why racists just need a nice hug.

Shappi Khorsandi is not only currently the country's most successful female stand-up comedian, she's also a bestselling author, mother, radio presenter, social commentator and - as demonstrated on BBC1's 'Let's Dance in Aid of Sport Relief' - one of the world's leading impersonators of early '80s pop star Toni Basil…

Did you enjoy your acrobatic cheerleading dance routine on 'Let's Dance…' to that infectious classic floor-filler 'Mickey'?
'It was brilliant fun - a dream come true for me. I've always wanted to dance on the telly, 'cos I can't dance at all. In fact, I never dance… sober. I can't even do aerobics classes successfully. I get confused. So as a naff American might say: “It was like a massive personal achievement for me.” '

It looked like quite a workout. Did you have to get yourself fit before it?
'No! Good God, no! I nearly died doing that, I nearly died. I couldn't even talk to the presenters afterwards.'

Considering you're not a natural dancer and it was going out on prime time telly, how nervous did you get?
'I thought “Question Time” was the worst nerves in the world until I did that show. They were off the scale, borderline catastrophic. I wish I could have done it again because then I could have relaxed a bit and really done it properly but alas I was voted out. It was completely brilliant, though, and I was so grateful to be given the chance to do something that was so far removed from what I normally get asked to do, which has tended to be a bit more serious stuff just recently. It's actually far more me to do the frivolous and fun things.'

You have a hugely varied career. At one moment you could be doing stand-up on 'Live at the Apollo', the next you're dressed as a cheerleader busting some moves on live television, and then the next you're appearing on a political panel show being asked your opinions on the weighty social issues of the day…
'I think people only come to me to talk about serious things because I'm not white. But I do feel a responsibility when I'm asked to do more social-commentary stuff to speak up. I do the best I can with the stomach I've got but I find it difficult because I find confrontation very hard. I find public speaking very, very hard. Especially when it's about something that really matters to me. My voice cracks and I get a lump in my throat.

I get horribly shy but I don't do it for fun, I do it because I think it's important, if that doesn't sound too wanky. I could be at home shouting at the telly but I find myself in the lucky position of being to talk about the things I feel passionately about to a wider audience than just my family.'

How do you feel about the approaching election?
'It's far too soon after “Celebrity Big Brother” for my liking! I'm not at all party political myself, but, as it approaches I am getting asked to appear on more and more programmes, largely because of the rise of the BNP. It's just maddening that every generation thinks it's solved the problem of racism and then along comes the next generation and they're thick as shit and have
to be educated all over again. Human beings are stupid. Did you know it's only human beings and chimpanzees that are cruel to each other for fun? Those of us who are less chimp-like have
a responsibility to constantly battle against the likes of the BNP who are just ridiculously simian.'

Do you think it's better to tackle racism head on than to ignore it?
'I think what's important is that people are allowed voice their concerns about issues like immigration without fear of being called racist, because that's what drives people to the BNP, the feeling that they're not being heard. A lot of white working-class people in this country feel that every time they open their mouths they get hollered 'You racist!' at them, but we should probably stop doing that now and let people just talk. Let them have discussions about 'black yoofs'.

In my old age I've learned to listen to people more than write them off as bigots, because if you listen to people they're more likely to listen to you. Obviously, there's a difference between a racist that goes out beating up black and Asian people and actually thinking they're inferior, to a racist who's ignorant and just needs a little bit of love. “Hug a racist!” that's what I say.'

Shappi Khorsandi will be appearing in Time Out Live's 'Laugh Out Loud' at the Bloomsbury Theatre, Wed April 7; at the Soho Theatre May 4-8; and at the Laughing Boy Comedy Club May 27.