Preview: Oh,
My Country!

Tea, Boris Johnson and Joanna Lumley – comedian Shappi Khorsandi talks about the many things that aren’t as English as they seem in her new show. By Saskia Murphy

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Shappi Khorsandi describes her latest show as a love letter to her adopted homeland. The comedian and her family were forced to flee their native Iran in 1976 when her father – satirist Hadi Khorsandi – published a poem that was seen as critical of the revolutionary regime.

This year marks the 40th anniversary since his arrival in the UK, and Khorsandi says she wanted to honour the occasion with a comedic ode to England.

“The show is a statement about the country that you belong to,” says Khorsandi ahead of her appearance at Harrogate Comedy Festival. “It’s for you to say where home is and not for someone to say: ‘Oh, but you weren’t born here.’ Obviously it’s a fun show and I want people to have fun so I’m very silly in it. I talk about all the things that weren’t originally born in England but are quintessentially thought of as being English – like tea, for example, and Boris Johnson and Joanna Lumley, who was born in India. “It’s a comedy show about feeling – after 40 years of living in England – that it is mine. ”

Identity is a common theme in Khorsandi’s work. Her 2010 memoir A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English tells the story of growing up in a strange land with cold weather “where you don’t speak the language and everyone smells like milk”.

This latest show, Oh, My Country! From Morris Dancing to Morrissey, which made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in August, sees Khorsandi admiring the St George’s flag and reclaiming it as her own.

“I take the St George’s flag on stage with me,” says Khorsandi. “It is a flag that used to intimidate me and it was used to intimidate people like me, and now I look at it and think it’s a really good one. It’s white and red and simple, and it’s about learning that even if you don’t respect a flag don’t fear it. Don’t let anyone use it to scare you.”

The performance explores what it means to be English, a debate that feels increasingly relevant in the wake of the Brexit referendum. “It was written before Brexit, but it became relevant,” says Khorsandi. “It was very hard to write a political show this year because our politics changed so wildly in the space of a few weeks. I never thought in my lifetime that I would be standing in the street consoling a Polish mother, at my kids’ school, who was crying in my arms because she felt hated. It was really sad and I knew exactly how she felt, because people were sometimes rude to us when we were children. Even that’s not about race, is it? “Here’s me, a brown woman consoling a white woman who feels she is unwelcome in my country. I was speaking to her the very way our English friends would talk to my mum when she’d experienced hostility.”

But despite the show’s quiet political undertone, Khorsandi admits that she has no desire for the piece to be used as a catalyst to provoke a wider discussion on immigration and identity. She simply wants to make people laugh. “I just want people to go away having had a thoroughly fun time and a proper old laugh,” says Khorsandi. “There’s no other buzz.”

Oh, My Country! From Morris Dancing to Morrissey is at the Harrogate Theatre on 10 October

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My Country!

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