Stand-up comedy has undergone a huge transformation over the last 20 years.
“It’s got cleaner and more sober and a lot more career-minded. You meet 20-year-olds on the circuit now who have a five-year plan,” says Shappi Khorsandi, one of our best loved comedians, who heads to Leeds City Varieties this month.
Things have certainly changed a great deal since Khorsandi began her career as a stand-up two decades ago. “I feel very thankful that when I started out in comedy, it was punk,” she says. “The ultimate aim was to play the clubs, not telly. That’s why my new show is a love letter to the comedy clubs.”
In her new show, Skittish Warrior … Confessions of a Club Comic Khorsandi looks back fondly on the late 1990s when she first made her name on the circuit. “The show is a good opportunity to look back on how it all began,” she says. “It talks about the bits that stand-ups don’t usually talk about, those behind the scene moments where doors get slammed in your face. It’s about rediscovering that early passion. It’s a celebration of the comedy circuit.”
She recalls that when she was starting out in comedy, “I was a nervous wreck. It was terrifying. I would phone the Comedy Store for an open spot, and if they picked up, I would put the phone down. I was treading water for the first 10 years. It’s a sort of madness to carry on doing something that is so precarious. But I always knew that there was nothing else along my Yellow Brick Road!”
Skittish Warrior … Confessions of a Club Comic will home in on those moments where Shappi was her own worst enemy. “I’m the queen of sabotage. You go through your early career thinking the best thing is to be very famous, but the chances I’ve had to become very famous. I’ve completely scuppered!”
So, the comic continues, “This show is about the funny side of failure. It’s an ode to being an underdog. We celebrate the underdog.”
She hastens to add, however, that the show also reflects her deep sense of contentment with where she is at now. “It’s not doom and gloom. I’m perfectly happy. I’m not cut out for a tabloid level of fame. After 20 years, I feel completely comfortable with the fact that I’m vulnerable. It’s OK to say, ‘I’ve messed up so many things’.
“It’s about realising that if you didn’t get something, it wasn’t what you wanted anyway. I look back on my career and see all the times I’ve sabotaged it. But if I had really wanted it, I would have got it. I’ve got two kids, and I really wanted them. It may sound cheesy, but they’re my greatest successes.”
In the show, the stand-up, who has also headlined in her own Comedy Store Special for Comedy Central, points out the pitfalls of celebrity. Two years ago, she reached a whole new audience when she appeared in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here. She says she has no regrets at all about starring on the reality TV show. “It changed my life. Because you’re hungry and have nothing to do in the jungle, it forces you to look at your life. While I was in there, my life was going on without me. I realised there was no other life I wanted, and I desperately wanted to be back in it. Some people may see I’m A Celebrity as crass, but it bought me time to re-evaluate my life. I realised what I didn’t want – to be on the front page of The Sun. That’s not worth anything. Doing stand-up, writing plays and books – those things have value and they were the things I wanted to come back to.”
At Leeds City Varieties, March 29. www.cityvarieties.co.uk