Renowned Iranian-born comedian Shappi Khorsandi heads to Cambridge
Shappi Khorsandi's brilliant new show, Mistress and Misfit, focuses on Emma, Lady Hamilton, the mistress and misfit who lit up the life of Admiral Nelson and added to the gaiety of nations during the Georgian era.
The comedian has had a ball writing the show. One of the best-loved stand-ups in the country, Shappi affirms that: “This show has been the most fun to write. It’s about passion and tragedy. What better things are there to write comedy about?” Absolutely.
The terrific news is that after an acclaimed, sell-out run at the Edinburgh Festival last summer, Shappi is now about to embark on her biggest nationwide tour yet with Mistress and Misfit – and she can’t wait.
Chatting to me in the run-up to the tour, Shappi underlines the sheer thrill she gets from stand-up. “It’s really amazing!” exclaims the comedian, who made a big impression when she appeared on I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! before Christmas.
Shappi, who will be performing Mistress and Misfit at 50 venues around the country, continues: “It’s like skydiving. The adrenaline rush is incredible. It’s probably the only time in my day when I’m utterly focused and have no responsibility to anyone else apart from the audience.
“It’s like a lovely, warm, relaxing bath – but a very high-octane bath. You can’t reproduce that feeling. If I haven’t done stand-up for a while, I just have to get back on stage – I need it like oxygen!”
One of the many reasons why she is such a popular comedian is that so much of her material relates to herself – and audiences can instantly identify with that.
Shappi, who is also a best-selling author, having released A Beginners Guide to Acting English in 2009 – followed by her fantastic, critically lauded 2016 debut novel Nina is not OK – reflects that: “I relate Emma’s life to modern women and, like all stand-ups, I draw people into the world as I see it so it’s still a very personal show.
“When you’re a stand-up, people have come to see you and share the experience with you. They can read a book about Emma, Lady Hamilton, but the way I tell her story draws people in to my stand-up, which I hope is why they bought a ticket in the first place!”
In Mistress and Misfit, Shappi recounts the largely untold story of England’s unsung heroine, Emma, Lady Hamilton. For too long, she has been reductively tagged as Nelson’s mistress. She has been regarded as a bit of a harlot (you work in a brothel for one night and there goes your reputation).
Emma moved heaven and earth to drag herself from scullery maid to Lady Hamilton. Shappi explains: “I was fascinated by Emma. She was really clever and compassionate and very hard done by. She was also a master of re-invention and a fantastically creative person.
“I initially tried to write a novel about Emma, but it was too hard, so I thought I’d do a show about it instead. That was easier and funnier.”
Shappi, who has notched up numerous high-profile television appearances – including Live At The Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Have I Got News for You and her own Comedy Store Special for Comedy Central – goes on to outline some of the similarities between Emma and herself.
She says: “We were both artist’s models. She modelled for great artists, I modelled for GCSE students in Tower Hamlets. I have never worked in a brothel, but I have had moments that I would only tell you about on stage or when very drunk. I will be sharing some of those stories in Mistress and Misfit.”
In addition, the show reveals that the establishment closed ranks against Emma after Nelson’s death. Shappi discloses that: “Just before the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson wrote an add-on to his will asking that Emma and his daughter be looked after in the event of his death: ‘That is the only favour I ask of my King and country as I go to fight their battle’. They didn’t.”
The comedian closes by underscoring one last time her love of stand-up. “It’s a compulsion, it’s a sort of madness. Stand-ups are all mad. We are bright, and if we weren’t mad we’d be doing something else.”
So what would Shappi be doing if she weren’t a stand-up? “I’d have my own cleaning company – I once was a cleaner,” she replies. “That’s another thing I have in common with Emma because she worked as a cleaner too!”
Shappi Khorsandi’s Mistress and Misfit will be performed at J2 at The Junction on Friday, May 11 at 8pm.
Tickets: £16.50, £14.50 (concs)
Box office: 01223 511511 or Cambridge Junction.