Witty and intelligent, Iranian-born, UK-raised comedian Shappi Khorsandi will be a familiar face from BBC’s Live at the Apollo and Mock the Week.
But her debut novel, Nina Is Not OK, is much darker than her stand-up routines, exploring a 17-year-old girl’s descent into alcohol abuse, sordid sexual encounters and a spell in rehab.
Shappi, who appears on stage in Kent this weekend, admits her eponymous fictional heroine is not that far removed from her earlier self.
A drunken Nina is thrown out of a club for attempting to perform a sex act with a man in full view of other clubbers. Shappi herself was also ejected from a club at 19, but is reluctant to go into the details.
“I carried a lot of shame around that. I didn’t have any boundaries,” said the 43-year-old.
“When I was 22, my dad said, ‘When was the last time you had a day without booze?’ and I didn’t know.
“I remember being in my 20s and not knowing when to stop drinking. I can’t lie and say I wrote completely from my imagination.”
Although not certain she had a drink problem, she admits she had a social problem and has an addictive personality. “I was incredibly shy with very low self-esteem. To be comfortable with the whole flirting thing, parties and dancing, I couldn’t go without a drink.
'I remember starting on the comedy circuit and always ending up in somebody else’s house because I was too drunk to go home'
“I remember starting on the comedy circuit and always ending up in somebody else’s house because I was too drunk to go home.
“Sometimes they were lovely people whose girlfriends put you in a clean pair of pyjamas – sometimes they weren’t.”
Nina struggles with her problems and tries to cope with the death of her fun-loving, alcoholic father, while Shappi’s own father is poet and satirist Hadi Khorsandi, on whom she clearly dotes, and who she says was a party animal.
They fled Iran for London when she was three, after he wrote a satirical poem about the Islamic Revolution and received death threats.
Introduced to alcohol at around 13, she believes she later used it as a prop for shyness, partly due to being overweight as a youngster.
Yet from a young age she did turns at her parents’ parties, mimicking Margaret Thatcher having flirty conversations with Ronald Reagan, which made everyone – and most importantly her father – laugh.
“Stand-up for me was: ‘Well, I’m not invited to the party so I’m going to have my own party every night of the week’.”
Starting off at pubs and clubs, she progressed to the Edinburgh Festival. This year, her show Oh My Country! tours the UK, coming to Chatham next week.
Divorced from comedian Christian Reilly, she has a son, Cassius and a daughter Genevieve. She now has a new partner.
“We live together, but I’m not going to get married again. I find it all deeply unromantic now.”
Today, if she has any addiction, it’s running, which helped her recovery.
But she says: “My recovery is quite fragile. Without recovery, I can’t get on with my life. Part of avoiding relapse is not being in a position where I have to explain it. My book is the best way I have to explain it in a fictional way.”
Shappi Khorsandi’s tour, Oh My Country: From Morris Dancing to Morrissey comes to the Brook Theatre in Chatham on Saturday, September 17.
For tickets, call 01634 338 338, or visit medwaytickets live.co.uk