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British comedian Omid Djalili has caused a row at the BBC after making jokes about a Jewish BBC chief.

Djalili, who was born in Chelsea, west London and is of Iranian descent, has his own comedy sketch show on the BBC in which he plays a variety of characters.

But he left an audience of 200 of Britain's top comedy writers and performers speechless after his offensive jokes about Jews.

Djalili had a ten-minute rant at BBC3 controller Danny Cohen, who is Jewish, in which he questioned his credentials to run the channel and repeatedly interrupted the executive when he tried to answer.

The tirade came after Cohen, 34, said he was offended by a joke 43-year-old Djalili had told about 'the Jewish secret service', which used the stereotype that Jews are obsessed with money.

Q: What do you get when you cross an Iranian comic with a Jewish BBC chief?
A: One almighty row

By James Tapper
26th April 2009
Daily Mail



In character: Comedian Djalili on his show as an opinionated minicab driver


It was supposed to be a conference about taste and decency on TV. But the audience of 200 of Britain's top comedy writers and performers were left speechless when a leading comedian tore into a BBC chief after telling an 'offensive' joke poking fun at Jews.

British comedian Omid Djalili, of Iranian descent, had a ten-minute rant at BBC3 controller Danny Cohen in which he questioned his credentials to run the channel and repeatedly interrupted the executive when he tried to answer.

Djalili told Cohen he could not justify 'dictating' what goes on the corporation's 'youth' channel without having children of his own.

The tirade came after Cohen, 34, who is Jewish, said he was offended by a joke 43-year-old Djalili had told about 'the Jewish secret service', which used the stereotype that Jews are obsessed with money. And it stunned the audience, who included Absolutely Fabulous creator Jennifer Saunders, Shaun Of The Dead star Simon Pegg and comedian Frank Skinner.

Afterwards, Djalili apologised to Cohen and they spent a long time discussing the issue in private.

The clash happened at the BBC Comedy Forum, an event hosted by BBC director of vision Jana Bennett, who is responsible for all of the Corporation's television.

Djalili and Cohen sat on a panel with Ms Bennett, Mr Skinner and Susan Nickson, creator of the BBC3 sitcom Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps.

They were discussing taste and decency on television, which has become a major issue for the BBC after the row over obscene messages left by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross on the answering machine of actor Andrew Sachs (who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers and who is also Jewish) last year. The BBC has introduced tighter rules which some comedians feel are stifling their work.

A guest in the audience told The Mail on Sunday: 'It started off pretty well. Omid was talking about the sort of things you can and can't say on TV now and he trotted out some jokes by way of example.'

One was: 'What's the Jewish Secret Service called?' Then, pretending he was haggling at a market, Djalili answered: 'MI6, MI5, MI4, MI3...MI final offer?'

Nothing was said about the joke at that point, but then Djalili gave his views on the lowering of standards in other arenas.

The guest said: 'He was talking about how he had taken his son to a comedy festival billed for all the family, but he'd walked out when a comedian started swearing.

'Then he said he took his children to the film about the rapper Notorious B.I.G. and he said there was a lot of sexual content in that.



Ten-minute tirade: Omid Djalili, right, stunned the audience with his attack on BBC3 controller Danny Cohen


'He asked Danny a really general question and when Danny said, "Well, that's such a broad area I can't really answer it," Omid started to get a bit aggressive.

'He asked him, "What do you find offensive?" and Danny said, "Well, I think that joke was offensive but that probably says more about me, and I'd let it be broadcast."'

'Omid started going on at him, about how he wasn't answering the question properly, and then he asked Danny, "Do you have kids?"

'Danny said No and that's what really set Omid off.'

Another guest said: 'It was a proper rant, and he completely lost the audience. He was saying stuff like, "How dare you judge what my kids can watch?" and "How can you justify your job when you don't even have kids?"

'But he kept interrupting when Danny was trying to answer. Danny was saying "I'm being attacked here, please let me answer the question." When he finally got to answer the question, he was very calm and coherent and pretty impressive.

'Afterwards we broke for coffee and everyone was talking about it. Someone asked, "Did you enjoy Omid's career suicide speech?"'

Both men are among the BBC's rising stars. Djalili began the second run of his BBC1 sketch show last week, with 2.6million people tuning in. He will replace Rowan Atkinson as Fagin in the West End production of Oliver! in July.

Cohen is the youngest person to ever control a major TV channel and has been tipped as a future director-general.

Djalili told The Mail on Sunday in a statement: 'The nature of the forum was to encourage discussion and debate on the subject of boundaries in comedy. You could say it got a little heated at times.

'Danny Cohen and I shook hands at the end and I did say sorry if he felt I had confronted him on one or two of the issues that came up.'

dailymail.co.uk
Last edited by Blackleaf; Apr 26th, 2009 at 12:50 PM..