He’s been doing stand-up routines since he was a kid and oozes uber confidence but part of Ahir Shah still managed to die on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order comedy show thanks to nerves. But don’t be fooled. This politics graduate wasn’t fazed for long so if you think you recognise him from television something or other you can soon expect to see a lot more of him. Comedian Ahir’s not waiting for a part to arrive, instead he’s writing himself into comedy roles and it’s all thanks to a bit of name-calling by his grandma. Susie Daniels finds out more…
I don’t like to name-call but Ahir Shah is a fool. In fact, I’m not name-calling. His grandmother is. Let’s start again. I don’t like to judge but should a grandmother call her grandson a fool? Having chatted to Ahir about the possible absence of the afterlife, his close-knit Hindu family and his travel to India a couple of years ago to visit his dear grandma before she passed away, the conclusion has to be it was in the fondest way possible he was described as a clown. And his current touring show’s name is a strong nod to fond memories of a woman who spotted the humorous side of her grandson.
Ahir says his show, called Duffer, is so-named because his grandma would call him ‘dafol’ when he was younger. The word is the Hindi origin of the English word duffer, meaning clown or fool.
The show, which has already been well received at this year’s Fringe, will tour until April 2019 (by then Ahir will be able to competently recite his show backwards) and is about ‘the grandma trip’. It may not sound quite as exciting as ‘the road trip’ but it explores relationships, before life, after-life and everything in between. So…life. Ahir says: “I was raised in an entirely neutral environment with an absence of religious faith so it was very much, ‘you’ll make your own mind up’. If you’re not exposed to it [religion] then that’s what you do. My belief when we die is that this thing’s not working and then it stops. My family in India are Hindu and have a strong religious faith. It’s a thing I envy. Maybe I am on the cusp of believing. It can provide solace.
“I think there’s certainly a sense of loss. It’s very natural and instinctive in the (afterlife) belief to human beings. It’s a tribalism thing. They channel it and it’s inherent. It’s a shame we’ve lost the sense of community. I think we need to have some sort of communal feeling similar to that feeling standing in a football match. When I do the show it’s occasionally difficult but nice because it’s very personal. Just seeing the way it connects with people’s experiences and the way a number of people afterwards said it resonates is amazing.”
Ahir’s written two sitcom pilots for Channel 4, one of which is in redraft stage because ‘everything’s going sh*t’ so hopefully we’ll get a glimpse of another side of his comedy very soon. The 27-year-old comedian has zoomed from Live at the Apollo to Comedy Central’s Stand Up Central, appearing with Nish Kumar on The Mash Report on and Frankie Boyle’s New World Order as well as various comedy-type programmes. And life in the congested comedy lane is all thanks to Ahir’s dad. Ahir recalls: “When I was at school my dad was very good at getting me to try out extra-curricular things. Consequently he suggested I do comedy and found out about a stand-up comedy course I could go to on the weekend. I did my first gig there as a result of that. At first I was just a kid mucking about and the good thing was you never feel you’re quite there on a course.”
The Cambridge Politics graduate has a confidence that a private school kid or Oxbridge graduate wears as a badge of the elite club yet Ahir has a less arrogant and warmer edge than many of his peers who we probably see dominating TV. While many comedians have a schtick – Jack Whitehall is giggly private schoolie, Kevin Bridges is goofy Glasgae street boy and Frankie Boyle is a sick twisted human being (in a good way) – Ahir has his serious, clever side so the initial thought bubbles from the audience once he delivers his punchlines are ‘Should I laugh? But he’s just insulted me by telling the truth’.
During a comedy routine at the Melbourne Comedy Festival last year he massaged the ego of his tanned Aussie audience and then hit them right between the eyes. ‘You’re extraordinarily welcoming…extraordinarily open….extraordinarily kind…for people who operate a gigantic offshore concentration camp. How are you this hostile to refugees in shorts weather?’ It’s brutally awkward honesty and watching the audience makes for an uncomfortable second of silence, nervous giggles and then a realisation of ‘yeah, that’s fair enough’ wafting over everyone.
Not many comedians would tend to pick on the whole audience to that degree and not join in with a ‘I’m one of you’ routine. Yet because he sounds like a learned academic it works. Ahir laughs: “My schitck? Yeah, I sometimes close with, ‘My friends tell me I would have made an entirely funny lecturer.’” So what was it like being on a television show with what appears to be a polar opposite type of comedian – the infamous Boyle? Ahir recalls: “I was only on Frankie’s New World Order for one episode. Frankie’s got a wicked sense of humour. I find him a very thoughtful and interesting guy. I was extraordinarily nervous on his show. I sat for one hour with my legs crossed and when I got up my leg was entirely dead.”
Ahir Shah plays The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh on Sunday February 17th and Glasgow Stand on Monday February 18th.