As a British born Iranian Omid Djalili is in the position to poke fun at a whole range of cultures. But the compressing of complex situations into entertaining but insightful routines is difficult and often Djalili settles for just being funny. It may be that he feels he has already compromised - acknowledging that his lucrative TV commercials have resulted in him being perceived as a sell-out. Djalili’s film career is reduced to a series of exaggerated (one hopes) but flat anecdotes. But he proved to be an unlikely musical star as Fagin in Oliver!
The feeling of compromise runs through the show as Tour of Duty is intended to show a side of the Middle East aside from the abuses of human rights and to provide a contrast with western cultures. In the UK we’re told an Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman is the start of a comic routine. In the Middle East it’s a hostage situation. The routines, whilst always funny, are sometimes shallow; bordering on stereotyping.
In Dubai, the Las Vegas of the Middle East, any kind of perverse pleasure is available – except a bacon sandwich. You know that a lengthy preamble on how surviving a plane crash taught a friend to explore his ‘ inner life’ is going to lead to a comic conclusion but it’s a let-down when it is the mundane observation that the name ‘Milliband’sounds like a sex aid for someone with a small penis.
At times Djalili is spot-on – observing that the term ‘Muslim Terrorist’ is unnecessary; the IRA were never called ‘ Catholic Terrorists’. But then his judgement is occasionally questionable. The use of ironic subtitles does not make s series of jokes that would have fit in Bernard Manning’s act less racist. Djalili’s suggestion that the best way of diffusing a confrontation is to talk back to the person with whom you’re arguing in his accent sounds like a good way to get thumped.
Djalili encores with a belly dance routine that, like the show, is somewhat stereotypical but bloody funny.
- Dave Cunningham