Ahir Shah – 'I'm worried about our willingness to normalise the abnormal'
- Brian Donaldson
- 20 July 2017
Impassioned political comic is back at the Fringe with another hour of gag-filled socially aware stand-up
The 2008 So You Think You're Funny? finalist and fiery political comedian Ahir Shah has been storming the Fringe for a few years now with a series of one-word titled shows (Distant, Texture and Machines, which we gave five stars, being three) and that trend continues with Control. In this Q&A he discusses Emo Philips, performing in the afternoon, right-wing stand-ups and his tricksy gran.
Among many things, your new show tackles 'freedom, fascism, complacency, complicity'. Tell us about the complacency bit
When history is broadly going your way, it does feel easier to assume that while there may be blips here and there, ultimately you're going to end up in the position that you envisage. I certainly didn't imagine a little while ago that I would find myself relitigating all the battles that my grandparents' generation had to fight. I'm worried that our willingness to normalise the abnormal and to basically say 'that's not going to happen here' or 'that's not going to happen again' just allows this thing to slowly sneak into the possibility of being. Constant vigilance is required to prevent the absolutely atrocious stuff from happening, though you'd like to think that the lessons were so clear last time. But we love making mistakes again, don't we?
One regional organ dubbed you as a 'pottymouthed political theorist'. You fine with that?
Kind of, yeah. I don't think I'm extraordinarily rude, it's perhaps that the other political theorists are far too staid. Probably it's more the fact that with a self-described 'blue comedian', then you get desensitised to how much they're swearing or talking about certain stuff. There's a difference between hearing your mates swear and hearing your gran swear.
Do you have a swearing gran?
I don't have a swearing gran (she'd think that that was far too base), I have a very tricksy gran. She's grown to accept my beard over time but when I first had it for a few months I remember she was going to give me a lovely hug and almost at the point of no return she recoiled backwards and told me to shave. I didn't, but if she'd said 'fucking shave!' then I would have.
In 2008, you were in the final of So You Think You're Funny? with future stars such as Daniel Sloss, Josh Widdicombe, Sara Pascoe, Seann Walsh and the winner Daniel Simonsen. How do you look back on that time?
It's like a year-group in school or uni with all these people coming through the ranks together and you keep in touch and whatever. But pretty much almost immediately afterwards I took three years out from the entire thing when I went off to university. I came back in 2012 and started to progress then, while the others were going from great success to great success from 2008 onwards, so I was really a bit of an also-ran. But I was very young.
Do you like to see comedy that's similar to yourself or do you avoid political stand-up like the plague?
Certain things are going to be universal: I can't be shocked that another comedian has stuff about Brexit or Trump; even the non-political ones who wouldn't normally go anywhere near that stuff would have a couple of lines on it. Nothing has ever made me laugh more than sitting through Emo Philips for an hour, delivering cracking one-liner after another. I love brilliant jokes and it doesn't necessarily matter which format they're coming at me from; it so happens that the format I do is the only one I'm capable of: I couldn't write a whole show of one-liners to save my life but that doesn't mean that I don't dig them.
Last Fringe, your show started at 1.30pm. This time you kick off at 2pm. Are you at peak hilarity in early to mid-afternoon?
Last year I ended up in a 1.30 slot unwillingly and unknowingly because there had been some confusion with other venues so I had to be coaxed into it quite a lot by my management. I thought 'who goes to see things at that time? I never go to see things at that time'. But I am very happy to be proved wrong when things work out and it turned out to suit the style well, I think. Most importantly, no one is hammered so their ability to concentrate is a bit higher. I think it's nice being probably the first thing people will see in their day, so they're a blank slate that you can work on and also there feels like a great sense of responsibility that I'm going to be the guy who sets them up for the rest of their day of seeing stuff. And being a Free Fringe act it doesn't hurt that people are likely to have more cash on them then than later in the day.
There is a vague upsurge in right-leaning comedy at this year's Fringe. Are you likely to lurk at the back of Leo Kearse and Geoff Norcott's shows and tut quietly or sit at the front and heckle loudly?
I know both of them and will go to see them out of professional interest. At a preview, I got talking to a guy in the audience who worked on the Vote Leave campaign, was a card-carrying member of the Conservative party and had even gone over to America to volunteer for the Republicans for Mitt Romney, so even by British standards he was really out there. But we had a perfectly reasonable conversation about the show and he was saying that if you can't laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at. What's the point of closing yourself off from people who you disagree vehemently with? OK, I'm not going to go to a show performed by an actual Nazi, but Leo and Geoff are just nice men who I disagree with on quite a few things.
Ahir Shah: Control, Laughing Horse @ Cabaret Voltaire, 3–27 Aug, 2pm, free.