Reviewer: Paul Maguire
Ahir Shah is a comedian on an upward trajectory. This show, Control , was nominated for The Edinburgh Comedy Award (formerly known as The Perrier Award) at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. He has been described as ‘One of his generation’s most eloquent comedy voices’.
He refers to himself as a philosophical stand-up comedian and is often characterised as one of a new breed of political comics. On his own website it states ‘Shah has a sharp intellectual brand of stand up that features a blend of philosophical enquiry, political vigour and sweet gags’.
Shah’s confidence is apparent from the moment he starts. This poise immediately puts the audience at ease and allows them to relax in the knowledge that they have entrusted the next eighty minutes of their lives in to the hands of someone that knows what he is doing. He has an amenable manner and speaks in an accent that is plummy, Received Pronunciation. He informs the audience that he is quite aware that he seems to have been ‘colonised by my own voice’. This is a theme that he returns to throughout the show, colonisation, not his accent.
His previous show, Machines, explored the position that the present day is on a precipice between a potential better future and the resurgent worst parts of the past that we thought we had left behind. Shah states that this show is about how the past has won or at least seems to be winning. It is a show that tackles ‘Freedom, fascism, complacency and complicity.’ Not the normal subject matter for a fun night of comedy at The Lowry, more the content of an undergraduate course at university.
Brexit, and the underlying reasons why people voted for it, frustrate Shah. He cannot understand why some people that he respects voted for Brexit and therefore intentionally or not, ally themselves with people that think he and his family are sub-human. He skilfully highlights this point with an extended allegory about how he is a vegetarian but loves eating veggie meals at Nandos. Supporting Nandos while being a vegetarian is not a problem for him as he states, with beautiful irony, ‘It doesn’t affect me I’m not a chicken’. Shah seamlessly transitions between subjects both serious and funny throughout the opening forty minutes. The first act flows by quickly with a genuine rhythm, so it is a surprise when he announces the interval.
The second act continues the theme set in the opening stanza. Shah tells us that the apotheosis of worldwide change was Donald Trump’s victory. He warns that the bigoted vocabulary used by such individuals and movements has becomes normalised and inures us from the hateful meaning of those words. These populist victories are seen as a victory of the common man over the ruling elites. Shah explains that this allows the middle-class liberal elite to see this resurgent danger as, not their problem.
The pace, wit and intensity of Shah’s second act means that it is over before it has begun. He finishes the show with an extended impassioned plea, filled with pathos and power. He begs that we do not ignore the lessons of history, so that we do not have to fight again the everyday battles that his grandparents and parents thought were over. He states that the ‘thinness of humanity is more apparent than it has been in decades and the dehumanising of people only leads to bodies’.
Shah has a clever and distinctive point of view that differentiates him from many of today’s TV panel show comedians. He bluntly challenges societal hypocrisy with a restless persistent probing that questions the changing norms and mores of modern 21st century. His subject matter is intellectual, political and challenging but he keeps the audience’s attention and concentration by talking to them and not at them. He extends this connection by describing his personal experiences of racism and puncturing this tension with some well-timed gags, ‘I deal with racists every day, but you just have to deal with them on Christmas Day’.
Shah concludes the show by apologising if any of the audience found him an unfunny comedian but states that they must agree that he would make a hilarious lecturer. The fusion of talented comedian and serious subject matter is a winning combination. This funny thought-provoking show leaves its mark on you long after you have left the theatre.
Reviewed on 3rd February 2018