Anil Desai: 52 Impressions to go


Hit Brit-Asian Impressionist heads to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

ANIL Desai told his parents when he grew up he would become a Doctor, a Lawyer or an accountant…we guess that’s the point his parents knew their son was destined for a life in comedy.

As one of Britain’s up and coming impressionists – Anil likes to put on a show, and his solo offering – ‘Stand-Up Chameleon’ – has the comedy circuit in a buzz.

Armed with 52 cards each with a celebrity face, Anil lets his audience choose the scenarios and celebrities that make up his hour of fun.

It goes something like this: Nelson Mandela gives birth to Michael Jackson? Christopher Walken gets waxed by Al Pacino? Clint Eastwood goes on a date with Kermit the frog?

Using a celebrity deck of cards to decide the characters and his audience to choose the scenarios, Anil improvises completely unique comical situations, scene after scene where no-one (not even Anil) knows what’s going to happen next. Pretty clever stuff indeed!

Next month Anil will head to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival where he hopes his novel idea isn’t lost in translation!

Here’s what the man had to say when we caught up with him…


Anil tell us a bit about yourself…

I was born in London, I grew up in my parents Indian restaurant. In the 90s I told my parents I was going to be an Actor so that way I could become a Doctor, a Lawyer or an Accountant! Ha ha – I’ve been doing some form of comedy throughout my career since then. I love movies, watching sunsets and cooking good food – oh, my favourite colour is midnight blue and I’m currently single, is that too much?


How did you get into impressionist comedy?

Too many hours spent watching TV and videos as a kid – seeing comedians like Phil Cool and Eddie Murphy blew my mind – I found I could do their voices and many more so used to do their routines in school, at parties, on coach trips, everywhere really. Many years later some good friends encouraged me to take it seriously, so I did it for the first time at a comedy night called Spank! – I was more afraid of doing that gig than anything in my life but thankfully it went well, and those boys still continue to book me on that show to this day – it’s become my comedy home.   


What makes your routine different to other impressionists?

I don’t use wigs, costumes or make up in this show. I use a deck of 52 cards each written with a name of different famous icons from Movies, Music, Cartoons and Politics. The audience calls them out and my ability to switch between characters is lightening fast, hence my title – Stand Up Chameleon. 


How does the real you different from the performance you?

I’m not sure they’re too different.  I don’t impersonate in my day to day life as much as I used to, now that I do it for a living, but I do still goof about a lot. I love life and I love to meet new people and socialise, but these days I spend more time working on my own, so tend to have more fun playing on stage than I do off stage.


You interact with the audience? Surely that’s a recipe for disaster?

Audiences want to be involved, they want to be challenged or made fun of and certainly entertained, otherwise they wouldn’t go to comedy shows – they know it’s gonna happen at some point. My audiences aren’t picked on but are part of making the show, so it’s involving them in a positive playful way – and they’ve been very friendly and warm to it so far.


Which celebrity do you find to be the most requested?

Robert DeNiro, Tom Cruise and Jeff Goldblum, because I can actually look like them!


Who has been the hardest celebrity to nail?

The women – Marilyn Monroe, Kiera Knightly, you name it. My voice doesn’t naturally play that high, so they are much harder work – just like the real women in my life, ha ha.


What’s the secret of doing a good impression?

I could do them since I was a kid and for me it’s about feeling it. To be honest I’m not sure how I do it, I think I was born with it. But a good tip would be to watch someone else do it.


How do you deal with awkward audiences or hecklers?

If I’m in character as say Clint Eastwood or Nelson Mandela, it gives me a good opportunity to entertain everyone else by having them shut down a heckler in a way that, as myself, I couldn’t get away with.


It must be a constant problem for impressionists – having people fall out of fashion and the public consciousness, or even worse death. How often do you find yourself practicing for new material?

Well I do 52 famous characters in my show and I try and add one or two new ones in every few weeks. The characters I do are very iconic, so even though they may not be in the public eye, audiences still get who I’m being.


Let’s look ahead to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – are you looking forward to taking the show to Scotland?

Yes, definitely, I really love it up there. I recommend everyone to go there. It’s my first solo show, but it being so close now, I am quite nervous, part with excitement and part full of horror, as I’ll be performing 25 nights at the festival. That’s a very intense month (My god!! What have I got myself into?!)


Any plans to tour the UK?

That would be amazing. Hopefully the Edinburgh run will go well enough for me to be engaged in a UK tour for the year ahead, and with it being just me and my celebrity deck of cards, it’s pretty easy to get around the country. So fingers crossed I get to your town.


Anil Desai will perform his ‘Stand-Up Chameleon’ show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 7-31 August 2009. For more information log onto


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