Interview: Zak Ghazi-Torbati

Zak Ghazi-Torbati is on a mission. The Cymranian writer is set to be hot property in the UK comedy scene. He speaks to Cymranian about the importance of including his identity in his work, as well as hopes and aims for the future.

Where would we be without British sitcoms? Whether you're into the classics like Dad's Army, Only Fools & Horses and Fawlty Towers, or the modern hits such as My Family, The Royle Family and The Kumars at No. 42, there's a UK-based TV comedy show out there that'll make even Victor Meldrew laugh out loud. Behind the giggles are great writers that bring iconic characters like Del Boy and Norman Fletcher to life.

Writing a decent sitcom is an art, and nowadays there aren't enough of these types of shows that are standing the test of time. Broadcasters like UKTV are doing something about it. Most recently, it ran a competition where funny up-and-coming writers were able to submit a script for a pilot to be aired on Dave. Thousands of applicants were whittled down to just four; and one of those lucky, successful entrants was The Other Half, co-written by 26-year-old Cymranian Zak Ghazi-Torbati (executively produced by none other than Romesh Ranganathan).

The comedy is set between a small town in South Wales and Bristol - where a young, gay Welsh/Iranian man moves in with his best friend and her family, and is to begin an internship at an art gallery. It is worth 30 minutes of your time to watch it, if you couldn't watch it in August 2022. It is available to watch online.

Ghazi-Torbati says the inspiration for this script came from several different places.

"There are no known English language comedies about an Iranian family, and I really wanted to highlight this in a big way; where people were able to connect with the characters in ways they may not have seen portrayed before. They were fun to write and I was so lucky to have had incredible actors like Vahid Gold and Paul Chahidi to play the Navid and his dad."

The other main inspiration behind this comedy was to loosely base the plot on him and his adventures. After three years studying at Cambridge University, Ghazi-Torbati returned to South Wales, but rather quickly took the decision to pack his bags again and move to west London with his best friend and fellow comedic collaborator Kate Reid, and her parents. They have their own place now. 

Of course, The Other Half is fiction. In the comedy, Navid's father is a widower, but as Ghazi-Torbati explains with a smile, "My mum is still very much alive." In fact, if it wasn't for his mum Karen, who knows how far his passion for including Wales and Iran in his work would have reached? 

Karen met Iranian-born dad, Majid, in Barry (relatively shortly after moving to the UK with his brother), the home of hit sitcom Gavin & Stacey (a noted inspiration for Zak) and ever since she fully embraced the Cymranian spirit, being known to cook traditional Persian dishes and often encouraged her three children - Zak has two sisters - to attend Norooz celebrations when they were hosted in the now Mercure Hotel in Newport Road, Cardiff. While his parents are no longer together, Welsh and Iranian cultures strongly feature in the Ghazi-Torbati household.

Whether we'll see more from The Other Half or not, Ghazi-Torbati is determined to showcase more of Wales and Iran in his future work, as well as ensuring the LGBT+ community is strongly represented - he had recently finished a successful run of the award-winning stage show The Hot Gay Time Machine at Soho Theatre. 

"Welsh and Iranian cultures are so authentic and their humours are very unique. My comedy style is very direct, and aims to break down barriers, so it was important to bring all of these elements together and come up with something hopefully nobody would be able to compare with. I'm excited for what the future will bring."

For sure, we've not seen the last of the Cymranian community represented on British comedy, whether on screen or stage.


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