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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Veronica Lee

Edinburgh festival fringe: Ahir Shah’s Ends wins best show at comedy awards

Ahir Shah and Urooj Ashfaq smile as they hold Edinburgh comedy awards
Ahir Shah and Urooj Ashfaq, who won the best newcomer award, after the ceremony on Saturday. Photograph: Euan Cherry/Getty Images

A show about multiculturalism has won best show at the Edinburgh comedy awards. Ahir Shah, the first British-Asian to win the prestigious award, says in Ends that to be of immigrant origin in the UK is no longer to be “other”.

Shah, 32, who was nominated twice before, interweaves his family’s story with that of the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak. Shah’s grandfather, a factory worker, emigrated from India to Bradford in 1964, at about the same time that Sunak’s parents came to the UK from east Africa.

Shah went on to graduate from the University of Cambridge, and Sunak to occupy No 10, the comedian’s point being that with each generation that passes, achievement is so “normal” as not to be noteworthy.

Urooj Ashfaq, from Mumbai in India, won the best newcomer award, worth £5,000, for Oh No!, an hour of observational comedy. Ashfaq was performing in Hindi and English.

Speaking after being handed the award and a cheque for £10,000 by last year’s winner, Sam Campbell, Shah said: “Fuck me, we got No 10, best newcomer and now this – Rishi boy is really delivering for community.”

“I was trying to look at social progress across generations and 60 years since my maternal grandfather came to this country, the first member of my family to come to the UK, in 1964,” he said.

“I wanted to look at the current inhabitant of No 10 Downing Street and how that shift happened over the last 60 years.

“Society doesn’t have a finishing line, and all of these things are incremental and progressive. But we are moving to a point where we’re all the same. My grandfather died in 2002 without seeing where we are today, but I feel optimistic my children will see a better society in their time.”

The comic, from Wembley, north-west London, is getting married in October. Speaking to his fiancee, Emma Davies, who was in the audience at the ceremony, he said: “My love, this will be the second happiest day of my year. Let’s plan something good [for the wedding] because this feels really good.”

The producer of the awards, West End theatre owner Nica Burns, said of the 15 acts on the best show and newcomer shortlists: “Our international, diverse group of shortlisted comedians come from a huge variety of backgrounds and their work embraces every type of comedy from clowning to pure standup, with many variations along the way.”

The awards – previously known as the Perrier awards – very nearly did not take place this year, after Burns announced in May that the television company Dave would not be continuing its sponsorship.

At the 11th hour, three sponsors came forward – Sky for best show, comedy producers DLT Entertainment for best newcomer, and the Victoria Wood Foundation for the panel prize – a “spirit of the fringe” award given by the judging panel.

This year the panel prize of £5,000 went to A Show for Gareth, organised by Danny Ward and Mark Simmons as a fundraiser in memory of their friend Gareth Richards, who died in a road accident earlier this year; over the past month, 75 comics have performed spots in the slot Richards had been planning.

It was a year in which the festival fringe was still recovering from the effects of the Covid pandemic. The fringe programme lists 3,013 shows, down from last year’s 3,171 and more than a fifth fewer shows than the 3,841 in 2019, the last fringe before the pandemic.

Audience figures will not be released until later this week but are widely expected to be down on last year, amid growing concerns that accommodation in the Scottish capital is becoming too expensive for performers and visitors alike.

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