By Nadeem Badshah
DEATHS in the family and mental health are not your usual topics in a comedy show, but Ahir Shah has a unique way of finding humour in the most difficult of subjects.
The 28-year-old will delve into personal issues at his shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, the world’s largest arts festival.
Shah said he will touch on Hindu funeral customs, religion, adulthood, romance and quitting cigarettes to now “smoking a USB stick”.
Opening up about emotive subjects in his act helps, and works – if twinned with jokes – said Shah, a Cambridge University graduate.
Shah, who is performing at Monkey Barrel Comedy, told Eastern Eye: “There is certainly some catharsis from me. It’s always nice to have some say you articulated something they felt but were not able to articulate in that way.”
He added: “As long as you can make something funny, you have the freedom to talk about whatever you want to talk about.
“Something that benefits you to discuss, find a way to make it funny and go for it.
“It’s not that I am standing there for five minutes and delivering a grave monologue about my inner state. I am trying to give a full and honest account of it, but one that’s fundamentally built out of jokes.”
The British-Pakistani comedian has previously spoken about coming off anti-depressant medication and overcoming bereavements in the family.
And he said he wears his heart on his sleeve while on stage, as long as it triggers laughter.
“This show is largely about certainty, necessity, utility and, in my case, the absence of it,” he said.
“I contrast myself with my dad who has a very clear political ideology, very clear religious faith, very clear relationship. I don’t have any of those things. It’s a lot funnier than I make it sound.
“The nice thing about stand-up is we are united by the means, rather than the end.
“As long as you are making people laugh consistently through it, you can say whatever you want in order to achieve that goal.
“You can tell an hour of silly one-liners, that’s great, or quite personal difficult things. As long as people are laughing, that all works.”
Shah began his foray into stand-up at the age of just 15. He admitted he is no longer a news junkie as “issues that make me frustrated are everything I see when I open my eyes”.
And he plans to take a break from the industry next year in order to rest his funny bones.
“I have the vaguely youthful face and horrifically jaded eyes of one too many mornings.
“Next year I am going to break from it. Fields get left fallow for a little while to encourage growth, otherwise, it kills all the nutrients.”
“I need me some more nutrients,” Shah added.
“I look forward to finding out what people do when they are not under the cosh of self- imposed pressure.”
Tapping Audiences’ Funny Bones
Audiences at the Edinburgh festival should brace themselves for Anuvab Pal talking about his favourite film, Disco Dancer.
The 1982 Bollywood movie, starring Mithun Chakraborty, is about a man who comes from nothing to become the world’s greatest dancer.
Spoiler alert – the cult film ends in a dance-off where the villain dies from exhaustion.
Pal, who will be on stage at Assembly George Square Studios in Edinburgh, told Eastern Eye: “I plan to talk quite a bit about Bollywood and specifically the movie Disco Dancer, which is my favourite movie of all time.”
The 44-year-old said topics that audiences in south Asia found funny differed from those in Britain. “I can talk about Gujaratis, Punjabis, Assamese people, basic regional stereotypes in India, something that doesn’t quite work in the UK.
“In the UK, I can talk about the Empire, which people in New India have totally forgotten about.”
He added that audiences here “like” jokes about the British Raj.
“The British seem to love being abused about the Empire.”
Pal, who hails from Kolkata, has swapped writing articles for penning jokes, having previously worked as a journalist. He is also a screenwriter, playwright and regular contribution on BBC Radio 4.
The performer said the issues that make his “blood boil” and inspire his routine are “censorship in India, getting attacked for jokes, but it also pushes me”.
He added: “I’ve almost forgotten my previous job.
“A comedy club opened in Mumbai and that’s where the producer said, ‘you have to try out’.
“I did, and my life was ruined.” But the comic, who has been in the industry for 12 years, is happy to be in a comedy club compared to the time when a management company asked him to perform in a swimming pool.
“It was in Chennai, and the pool was round.
“So I started the joke and then floated away. And people had to wait until I finished a full round.”