Ahir Shah is an English political comedian. Ahir was nominated for the 2017 Edinburgh Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and was a finalist in the 2008 series of the So You Think You’re Funny? competition for new acts. Ahir Shah has been called “one of his generation’s most eloquent comic voices”. He began doing comedy occasionally at the age of fifteen, and over the course of the last decade has finetuned his comedic stylings. Ahir Shah’s sharp, intellectual brand of stand-up features a blend of philosophical inquiry, political vigour, and sweet gags. Ahir’s most recent show, Control, debuted at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it was nominated for Best Show at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Please enjoy my interview with Ahir Shah.
How do you describe your occupation?
I’m a stand-up comedian and writer.
I wake up as late as I can get away with waking up, read the news, worry, and by the time I’m done worrying (and turning some of the worries into jokes) it’s generally time to go out and tell those jokes to strangers for money.
What are you reading at the moment and what made you want to read it?
I am currently reading We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve been a fan of his work in The Atlantic for several years now, and the book is a collection of his essays from the Obama presidency and his wider thoughts on race and history in the United States. Coates is a fascinating thinker and an extremely elegant writer, and reading his journey through the Obama years culminating in the victory of Donald Trump is a frequently crushing but ultimately deeply necessary experience. It’s the first book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling that I rushed to buy the moment it came out; it’s the first book that’s ever made me feel a profound sadness for the state of our world from the second I physically held it.
Can you remember the first book you read by yourself?
It can’t have been the first book I read by myself, but I have strong memories of reading and rereading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl over and over again as a small child. Absolute bliss.
Are you a page folder or a bookmarker?
I just remember the page number. It’s a bookmark that eschews the need for an actual bookmark.
When did you fall in love with making people laugh?
I don’t think there are too many people who regard making people laugh as an actively unpleasant experience, but as a potential career, I loved it from the second I first walked on a stage and got my first laugh from an audience. The sound comes at you like a wave, and when it’s going well it’s like being able to control the tide.
If you could invite 5 authors (dead or alive) to a dinner party – who would they be and why?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Niccolo Machiavelli, Karl Marx, James Madison and Mahatma Gandhi, to chat shit about the nature of the state and civil society. We’d probably need a few of Douglas Adams’ Babel fish, though.
What was the last book you purchased, and why did you buy it?
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates, for the reasons outlined above.
What is your favourite thing about reading?
I love the feeling of having a conversation with the past, with a total stranger, and being able to access their thoughts for a while. When Machiavelli was in exile he described how at the end of the day he would put on his stately robes and feel as though he was walking among the ancients, who welcomed him, heard his questions, and answered, and for that time he was entirely at peace. I think that’s the sort of feeling reading can afford you.
It would definitely be the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, though I feel like I might just be one of the crap kids who dies in a tragic but ultimately inconsequential way.
Who would you say your three biggest comedic influences are?
My mother, my father, my sister.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Realistically it’s probably the Bible. I mean, I’m an atheist and I’ve never read it, but having been born and socialised in a Western liberal democracy it’s undoubtedly had more of an impact on my entire worldview via osmosis than anything else I could possibly consume.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring comedian?
Do go to the Edinburgh Fringe; don’t go to the Edinburgh Fringe in any manner that is going to lose you buckets of money.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Which book sat on your shelf are you most excited about reading next and why?
I have recently bought – though not yet read – the book Inglorious Empire by Shashi Tharoor, which is about the history of colonial exploitation in British India. I don’t really know if “excited” is the right word, as it’ll probably just fill me with righteous indignation, but then again I do really enjoy being filled with righteous indignation. It’s one of the better types of indignation.