‘I’m worried about our willingness to normalise the abnormal’

Impassioned political comedian Ahir Shah has been storming the Fringe for a few years now. In this Q&A he discusses Emo Philips, right-wing stand-ups and his tricksy gran

Among many things, your new show tackles ‘freedom, fascism, complacency, complicity’. Can you 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 i nd myself relitigating all the battles that my grandparents’ generation had to i ght. 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’ 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 i rst 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.

things are going Do you like to see comedy that’s similar to yourself or do you avoid political stand-up like the plague? Certain 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 kind of thing 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.

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. See more of this Q&A at

3–10 Aug 2017 THE LIST FESTIVAL 47

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