Omid Djalili

Active - 1999 - 2016  |   Born - Sep 30, 1965 in Chelsea, London, England  |   Genres - Comedy

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Acclaimed as one of Britain's funniest standup comedians, Omid Djalili also retained the distinction of being the country's sole Iranian standup act. Following the smashing success in the 1995 Edinburgh Festival and such satirical U.K. efforts as Small Potatoes (2001) and Between Iraq and a Hard Place (2003), Djalili seemed poised to take the U.S. by storm with his supporting role in the new Whoopi Goldberg sitcom Whoopi. Born to an Iranian journalist and photographer who had settled in London in 1957, Djalili's father was both a contributor to Iran's top newspapers and a translator for the Iranian embassy. Severing his ties with the Iranian government following the 1979 Iranian revolution, the elder Djalili opened a medical hostile for Iranian immigrants, and it was there that young Omid witnessed his father's unique ability to entertain and began to get a true sense of the cultural differences between native-born Londoners and their Iranian immigrant counterparts. His enrollment in London's multi-cultural Holland Park school also served to provide young Djalili with a strong catalog of various foreign accents that would later prove key to his success as a standup act. Djalili graduated from the University of Ulster with a degree in English and theater arts in 1988, and embarked on a series of odd jobs after returning to London and being rejected from 16 different drama schools.

Gradually working his way from the outskirts of the theater scene to small roles on stage and screen, it wasn't long before Djalili met his future wife, Annabel Knight, at a friends wedding and the two began collaborating on various projects. After working themselves into the experimental theater scene in the Czech Republic via a cultural exchange program, the couple was preparing to have their first child when Mrs. Knight decided to pen a one man play for her husband to star in. An introspective, humorous, and honest depiction of the struggle for truth in the face of religious prosecution, A Strange Bit of History proved an enormous hit after debuting in Edinburgh to capacity crowds. His crossover appeal in part the result of his ability to relate to numerous foreign cultures, Djalili took home the coveted LWT Stand Up Award in 1997 and has since gone on to numerous film and television roles.

Djalili endeared himself to U.K. television audiences in the late '90s, and after making his film debut in the 1999 Hollywood blockbuster The Mummy, it seemed as if his appeal had made the sometimes difficult translation from the U.K. to the U.S. Alternating between work in Europe and America into the new millennium, Djalili received stateside exposure with roles in such high-profile releases as The World is Not Enough (1999) and Spy Game (2001) while maintaining U.K. credibility with supporting performances in Mean Machine (2001) and The Calcium Kid (2003). Following the premiere of Whoopi, Djalili began preparation for his role as Pablo Picasso in the feature Modigliani (2004). Over the next several years, Djalili would continue to remain a force on screen, appearing in films like Casanova and The Infadel, as well as TV series like The Paul Reiser Show.

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Factsheet

  • Parents immigrated to Britain from Iran in 1957.
  • Earned degrees in English and theater studies in college.
  • After college, was rejected by 16 drama schools.
  • Acted in experimental theater in the Czech Republic before turning to stand-up comedy; a one-man show (written by his wife, playwright Annabel Knight) won an award at the 1994 Edinburgh (Scotland) Fringe Festival.
  • Was chosen "Best Comic of 1996" on The Big, Big Talent Show on Britain's ITV network.
  • In the U.S., was a regular on the 2002 ABC fantasy Dinotopia and Whoopi Goldberg's 2003-04 NBC sitcom, Whoopi.
  • Won a Persian Golden Lioness Award in 2006.
  • His 2007-09 BBC sketch show, The Omid Djalili Show, was Britain's first ever hosted by an Anglo-Iranian.
  • Played Picasso in the 2004 biopic Modigliani; other film credits include Notting Hill, The Mummy, The World Is Not Enough, Gladiator, Casanova, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Sex and the City 2.