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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Bruce Dessau

Ahir Shah at the Soho Theatre review: poignant, powerful, extremely funny – this is truly outstanding stand-up

This is the stuff of showbiz dreams. Ahir Shah arrived at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer with an embryonic work in progress. Critics were not courted. Gradually the rough draft found its feet, prize panel judges saw it and as August concluded Ends won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Show.

It was a success tinged with sadness though. The reason it started as a trial run was because the 32-year-old Londoner's director, Adam Brace, died suddenly in April during the show's development. The award was a tribute to Brace, a vital creative cog behind the scenes, as well as to Shah’s more foregrounded input.

Ends packs so much in. Politics, class, race, grief, colonialism, marriage, the ubiquity of Ottolenghi cookbooks. Just one of the many highlights is Shah addressing being passionately conflicted about the current Prime Minister. “Politically, I’m furious. Racially, thrilled.”

As with previous sets, he draws heavily on his family’s Indian background. Here he intertwines his maternal grandfather’s story and contemporary issues with absolute mastery. The result is poignant and powerful as well as extremely funny.

His grandfather arrived in the UK in the 1960s, sharing a cramped Bradford bedsit with two other men, working double shifts in a baked bean factory and sending every penny home so that after five years his wife and children could join him. He swapped the land he loved for daily racism to give his family a better life.

For Shah, multiculturalism has certainly not failed. Just take a look at who is in 10 Downing Street, he notes. And if only his late grandfather was still alive to see that the London Mayor’s surname was Khan. Things are hardly perfect but who would have thought this was possible in 1964?

While there are eloquent, heartfelt moments that will bring a tear to your eye Shah never forgets that this is a comedy. There are countless routines that deliver full-on belly laughs, from his account of avoiding a mugging thanks to his Latin to his unbending devotion to money saving expert Martin Lewis.

Shah is not the first British-Asian comedian to address race, something he acknowledges when he touchingly recalls how seeing his grandparents laughing at the 1990s BBC sketch show Goodness Gracious Me made him consider comedy as a career. Thank goodness he was inspired. This is truly outstanding stand-up.

Soho Theatre, to November 24, also January 22-27;

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