There’s a quiet buzz in the Red Room as Shappi Khorsandi arrives. The Iranian-born English comedian is all smiles as she’s welcomed by the L&H. Khorsandi is about to receive the James Joyce Award, and is delighted to be appreciated. “I get really excited when students like me, because I remember being a student,” she says. “Young people are quite particular about what they like; they really think about what they like, and so it’s really nice to be acknowledged by people who are at that point in their lives where they have very strong opinions about things and they’re very, sort of, clear about the things they appreciate.”
Khorsandi has enjoyed increasing success in comedy over the last decade, performing at comedy festivals from Edinburgh to Melbourne, and Kilkenny’s own Cat Laughs. Known for bursting the bubbles of cultural stereotypes, she remarks that while there isn’t a massive difference between Irish and English audiences, “Irish crowds are a bit more self-confident, if you see what I mean. Like, certain English crowds can be more reserved, and I find with audiences if they’re not very confident, they’re not as lively, but I think Irish people and Irish culture kind of lends itself quite a bit to being comfortable with somebody in front of them, y’know, clowning about. I think audiences differ the most from the days of the week rather than their nationality, like a Monday night audience is always very different to a Saturday night audience. The Monday night crowds are the ones that really, really want to come and see you. Saturday night they might have a choice of five people to go and see or things to do that night and they’ve chosen you, so the expectations of the crowd are different.”
Saturday night shows would probably involve more drinking as well. “Yes. The audience too,” she quips, before breaking into a chuckle. “See? Always working.”
Khorsandi has enjoyed a healthy career on television, featuring on Live at the Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, and Mock the Week, although she admits performing for the camera makes her much more nervous than a normal gig. “I find stand up on telly really daunting. Cause you’re aware that so many people are going to see it, and it is a live art, and some people are really good at getting themselves across as stand-ups on telly. I find it quite difficult. I prefer live about a million times more,” she says. “When I can see the whites of the audience’s eyes then I can really connect with them.”
Despite the publicity that television brings, she only gets recognised now and then. “My level of being recognised is when I’m recognised, nine out of ten people will think they recognise me from the school gates and perhaps I’m just a familiar face from when they drop their kid off, or they’ll think they were at school with me. And then one time out of ten someone will go ‘Ooh you’re that comedian.’ I’m at the level where it just makes the world a little bit friendlier. Strangers smile at me, that’s it.”
It’s clear that Khorsandi cares deeply about performing, and fame is just a side-effect. While she studied theatre, she couldn’t imagine herself in any other career than comedy. “I always wanted to do it, it just took me 24 years to pluck up the courage to do it… It’s a hard thing to start; it’s a hard thing to admit that you want to do. I mean it’s a lot to say ‘I think I’m funny enough’, but it’s not that, it’s like a need. I think it’s like the priesthood, you have a calling. I didn’t want to do any other thing. And I think you need to feel that way about stand-up, cause it’s a hard business to be in, it’s hard to make a living out of it.”
In line with her no-nonsense approach to work, she doesn’t use social networking for publicity like some of her contemporaries, but rather just simply as Shappi. “I am addicted to Twitter. It’s a way of procrastination, and you get a lot of warmth from people. But it has a dark side as well, when people are horrid to each other, that’s not the fun part of Twitter, and I’ve learned as it’s gone on just to keep personal stuff really out of it. If you do anything that remotely says your opinion about something you’ve got to be prepared for like a billion replies of people disagreeing with you, and it can take up your whole day. So, it’s really time-consuming. I guess it’s a good marketing tool, as they say, but I’m not really very funny on it … I think I’m just myself on it. You always know when I’ve got a boyfriend or not, because if I’m not going out with someone I’m on Twitter a lot more, so Twitter’s my boyfriend when I’m single, it’s just someone to tell stuff to in the middle of the night when I haven’t got anyone else to poke in the ribs.”
Khorsandi comes across as very amicable, normal and down-to-earth. She bubbles with enthusiasm as she’s whisked off to the Fitzgerald Chamber, ready to engage in the mutual appreciation of an adored comedian and a favourite audience. This is not a larger-than-life comedy personality, Khorsandi just makes people laugh, and enjoys the hell out of it.