top of page

I TALK TO Shappi Khorsandi

"I'm enjoying comedy in a way that I didn't really before."

In 2017, Shappi Khorsandi did something I never thought she'd do and took part in I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! and as we chat ahead of her short run at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Skittish Warrior... Confessions of a Club Comic, Shappi talks openly and honestly about her reasons for taking part and how she found the experience.

With over 20 years experience in comedy, Shappi talks to me about enjoying it more than ever, finally shaking off the "career anxiety" she's always had and why now is the right time for reinvention as she eyes up a career as a dramatic actor.

Usually you go to Edinburgh and then you go on tour, does it feel weird doing it the other way around?

It does actually. In Edinburgh the show takes shape as you do it and I've had the same thing on tour, but this time it takes shape whilst you're actually on the road. There are certain jokes that five shows in you really know how to deliver. So it's evolved the way an Edinburgh show does but on the road.

When I started it was a much more serious show - not properly serious, but that Edinburgh thing of having a lot of layers and narrative to it. But you go on tour and people on a Saturday night just want to have a laugh. They don't want to get deep.

What can people expect from your show this year?

Well I've been doing comedy for twenty years so it's a bit of a love letter to the circuit. Talking about what it was like in the nineties and how different it is now. It's also about enjoying the risk of live comedy.

I also wanted to talk about I'm A Celebrity and what that was like for me as someone who thought I would never go on a programme like that and why I did it.

Why did you do it?

Money! That's the only reason. I got paid a year of bedtimes with my children, so for a whole year I didn't have to go on the road. I hope that doesn't sound ungrateful, but as a parent, being a comedian takes so much family time away and so the money I got for that or any reality show really helps.

I did Celebrity MasterChef, the longer you stay in MasterChef the more money you get and I was pregnant and single so I thought, because I'm self-employed, that if I get to the second round I will get enough money to give myself maternity leave. So I got to the second round, got my maternity leave money and then I made a sandwich.

So I did I'm A Celeb for the family time. I knew I wouldn't be a star in it. I knew I'd sit quietly until they let me out. For someone like me to go in there, you have to make a drama. You have to either cry a lot, have an argument with someone or be a complete arsehole - or be a complete hottie. The boat's sailed for the last one and the others are not me.

Iain Lee went in there and was in a very similar position to me in that a lot of the public didn't know who he was, but he very cleverly caused a riot and made great television. I just quietly sat on a log, chatted to Stanley Johnson and left.

As a comedian, did you feel the expectation was on you to perform and entertain?

Yes and I do talk about that in the show, about what people expect from comedians. People assume that if you put comedians in amongst really loud people that we'll rise to it but the opposite happens.

If you put a comic like myself with loud, athletic blokes, for humour to work you need common ground. People need to give you space and let you in, and if they don't let you in and you're the outsider, there's no joy there.

Amir Khan said to me "You're a comedian, but in here you haven't cracked any jokes" and I said "Yeah, but you're a boxer and you haven't knocked anyone out!" - being a comedian is a job. But did that get in the edit? No it fucking didn't! My comedy didn't make the cut because it added nothing to the drama.

When I came out of the jungle, Richard Osman was the first person to text me and he totally understood what it was like in there for me. He wrote "You came across exactly as I would have, desperate to find some joy and remained polite in its apathy."

In reality television there is no joy because it's such a bun fight for airtime and I'm not like that. I'd quietly go into the Bush Telegraph and have a laugh with producers in there and it gave me a renewed look at the comedy industry and everybody in it. It took away any career anxiety I had, I came out of the jungle and went to Edinburgh the next year and was floating around doing every single show I possibly could.

If I needed something to remind me how lucky I am to work in stand-up and be around such thoughtful and intelligent people, I'm A Celebrity was it because the other side of fame and celebrity is so dark.

When you say it took away any career anxiety you had, what do you mean?

I used to have so much anxiety around this job. I used to worry so much if I was good enough and now I just think "Jesus, you've got one life. Love it!" So I'm enjoying comedy in a way that I didn't really before. This whole idea of climbing because you think there might be happiness on the other side. Happiness is here and now! There's nothing over the rainbow, it's here and now, it's happening.

If you constantly ask yourself "What else can I get?" or look at what other people are doing, you miss your own joy. Oh my God, I've turned into an utter hippie!

Did you ever think that 20 years in you'd be enjoying comedy more than you ever did?

It's funny isn't it? That's what I love about this job because the longer you stay in it, the better you get. I did a lot of telly quite early on in my early to mid thirties when I was still finding my feet and also, it coincided with the calamity of my marriage break-up.

Now that time's gone on and my ex-husband and I are friends, I can be very honest and say that my marriage was a catastrophe in my life. In the show I do talk about that and how the TV work all disappeared again. Perhaps it just wasn't my priority.

I think if you really want to become a household name, whatever's going on in your life, the opportunity comes and you bolt. Maybe my joy is scuttling around medium arts centres and Edinburgh and to become a household name as a mum with small children, I knew that would demand sacrifices that I perhaps wasn't prepared to make.

Talking to comedians who are really successful and household names, their home sacrifices are intense and I'm going to whisper this... but they're mostly blokes, whilst the wife's at home looking after the kids.

My daughter is four and her impression of me is "Mummy's got to go, love you bye bye bye..." and running out of the room.

Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?

After Edinburgh I am heading for some serious acting. That's a bit of reinvention. That's the other thing, I thought why did I ever shelve acting?! I shelved it when I was very young because I went for a few auditions where the storylines for young Asian women were so stereotypical that I thought "Fuck this. I'm never going to be Juliet."

So I abandoned acting but now that I'm older, opportunities are coming my way that I didn't have before.

I'm also writing two more books. Another novel and a biography of my own life which will be very honest, and I've squared it all with my ex-husband!

I'm also writing my first novel, Nina Is Not OK into a play. The plan is to get some breathing space and write, produce and direct a play which is another dream I've always had that I've always shelved because it doesn't make much money. And frankly, I'm A Celebrity gave me a little bit of money to spend on labours of love.

Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?

The best one I've done.

Shappi Khorsandi: Skittish Warrior... Confessions of a Club Comic runs from 4th - 10th August at 1.40pm at The Stand Comedy Club (Stand 1). Book tickets here.


bottom of page