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I TALK TO Shappi Khorsandi

She’s just released her debut novel and she’s about to go on tour, but before she does, Shappi Khorsandi is bringing Oh My Country! From Morris Dancing to Morrissey to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Recently elected president of the British Humanist Society, Shappi Khorsandi is celebrating the fortieth anniversary of her arrival in Britain by reclaiming patriotism and sending a love letter to her adopted land in the form of a brand new show for 2016.

What came first? The show or the title?

The title, and actually the image for the poster! Because you've got to live with it for like a year afterwards as well. The show can change when you tour it, it's mercurial.

It's always comforting when you've got a title. It's really frustrating when you're boring your friends going "Shall I call it Spoons and Guinea Pigs?" So when you know exactly what it is it's good.

How did you settle on Oh My Country! From Morris Dancing to Morrissey and how long did it take?

Oh quickly. It's a lyric of Billy Bragg's from a song called English, Half English, and at the end he goes "Oh my country" and one of the lyrics is "From Morris Dancing to Morrissey" - so I've borrowed the lyrics from Billy Bragg.

What's the show all about?

It's a love letter to England. That's what my show is and it's about how your country is the space that you identify and how that doesn't mean to exclude others or to feel superior to others. It's just a space that you share, and it really is a love letter to England.

Where did the inspiration come from for the show?

My inspiration from it came from Billy Bragg's book, The Progressive Patriot massively, and also during the referendum, the people who were gunning for the fear vote were using the hashtag #ProudToBeEnglish and saying "our" people when they meant white people.

It's my sticking up my two fingers at those guys and saying no no no, this is as much mine as it is yours because we share this space. This idea that you can be genetically English, yet when you actually investigate the science in genealogy you see that you can't marry genes with culture, that's not how culture works.

I had a DNA test and my own genealogy, like everyone else in the whole world is such a mixture from European to Africa to Chinese - it's all in my genes and there is no specific English gene that when you put a microscope on it, it goes "Do you mind? We were just in the middle of tea!"

That doesn't exist. The patterns of that gene also exist in someone in Africa, in someone in Ecuador so my show is about that hashtag.

How long have you been working on this show then? Because considering everything that's been going on, it seems like the perfect time...

Oh yeah! (Laughs) I did start thinking about this all way before all of this. I've been working on it for about a year, since last Summer.

I didn't go to Edinburgh last year so I started thinking about it then. The thing is about countries and movement and race is that they're always relevant. The political seeds are always turbulent.

Never quite as turbulent as now in my lifetime, but I think if you're a comic that tends to talk about society, there's always something relevant. I would have liked to have done this show four or five years ago, if I had thought to do so.

How have the previews been going?

Really well, thank you for asking. I feel confident about being confident. I did a preview last night and I was so so happy with it.

Not just because it was an hour on the dot, because at one point it was about three hours long! My comedian friends who were there said it was fun... it's always good to be fun.

What keeps you coming back to the Fringe year after year?

Well I took a year out because I was writing my book so I took a year out from writing this show, but what keeps me coming back is because it's my job!

But the Fringe in particular, the atmosphere is just incredible. All those creative people all in one space and it's an incredible amount of fun, it's a pressure cooker, it forces you to work hard, it forces you to see the bigger picture - and for me, career wise it's all about seeing the bigger picture and learning so much from going to watch all the other shows.

I love to watch dance and other comedians. It's so exciting when another comedian grabs you and says "Have you seen so and so's show? You've got to go and see their show!"

It's just non-stop excitement for a month. It's heaven.

How does a Fringe audience differ from any other audience? 

Well they differ because they've often been to see a lot and because there's such a massive choice of who to buy tickets for, I'm always quite conscious of that.

You're aware that you're part of this hub, and Edinburgh's weird because Edinburgh is the debut of your show, and it's a trade fair and the different it makes to being on tour is that anyone with an iPad is a critic in Edinburgh.

It feels like you're showing everyone your new baby and they're allowed to say it's ugly. (Laughs)

Are you hoping to see much whilst you're up there?

Loads of people! Loads! Mark Steel's up there again. I missed him last year and I was really gutted because he's one of my favourite comics. I'm looking forward to seeing him, there are a couple of new comics I want to see.

Oh! You know who I want to see? I'm so excited. I booked tickets already to Jonathan Pie immediately because I think that's going to sell out and I've booked tickets to see Elliot Steel.

I'm also going to see Bridget Christie's work in progress show, Stewart Lee... and I'm going to go up there and just hear what the buzz is. I normally spend the first week 100% concentrating on my own show and when I'm comfortable with it I go and see others.

I see a lot of late night shows. The Soho Theatre put on some brilliant shows up in Edinburgh and I'm a patron there. They always book kind of more off the wall comics like Spencer Jones.

I always want to know what murky cabaret acts you can see after 11pm!

So you've got the Fringe, then you're touring the show and you've just released your debut novel! How are you juggling it all?

I am, I'm going on the road! I've got a very busy autumn, I'm touring with the show and the book, so my garden is going to look awful.

I just shut my eyes and run really. I sort of grab my kids when I can and when the school permits me to. We go on the road together and my boyfriend is incredibly supportive.

As I'm speaking to you now, my aunt's round to look after my kids so I've got a lot of support, and I muddle through - it's a rollercoaster, it's fun. I do stop to breathe.

What I've learnt to do with my life is book holidays. I never used to book them before, but now I've learnt to book them in advance and it's amazing! It's changed my life.

And finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?

A love letter to England.

Shappi Khorsandi: Oh My Country! From Morris Dancing to Morrissey will be on at The Stand Comedy Club from Wednesday 3rd August – Sunday 28th August at 8:30pm (Excluding Thursday 4th August & Monday 15th August)

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