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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Bruce Dessau

Urooj Ashfaq at Soho Theatre: a fast-talking, quick-thinking pre-Edinburgh treat for Londoners

Along with the Comedy Store, which opened a Mumbai branch in 2010, Soho Theatre has been at the forefront of seeking out stand-up talent in south Asia and bringing it to a wider audience. In recent years they have championed numerous skilful performers, including Vir Das, who has had considerable success in London and at the Edinburgh Fringe.

This year they have five Indian comics heading to the Fringe. If they are all as good as Urooj Ashfaq the Scottish capital is in for a treat. The fast-talking, quick-thinking 27-year-old performed only her second full-length show in English last night in Soho Theatre’s studio space and displayed a talent for candid comedy that suggests she could soon be playing larger rooms.

Admittedly this must have felt a little like a home fixture given the high proportion of the audience that understood and, more importantly, laughed at her Hindi asides at the start of the set, but Ashfaq is clearly an assured, confident performer. She might have talked about suffering from anxiety during her set yet there was absolutely no sign of it onstage.

Urooj Ashfaq at Soho Theatre (Jonny Ruff)

Much of her material focussed on the same sort of subjects you might get from a London stand-up. Not surprisingly she cites smart British stars Bridget Christie, Josie Long and James Acaster among her heroes. From her parent’s divorce – “the only thing they agreed on” – to her thoughts on pornography. From phone etiquette to the ways boys suppress emotions, this is thoughtful global humour.

A large chunk of the set was devoted to tales about her therapy. She recalled how she got into a tangle by asking questions on behalf of her very different friend who could not afford treatment herself, with the result that the therapist wondered if she was suffering from multiple personality disorder. By the end of the sessions, she quipped, even the therapist’s therapist needed therapy.

At one point she explained that she studied psychology because she was not clever enough to be a doctor, but this pivot seems to be a natural fit with her funny side. Her snappy wit frequently comes from trying to make sense of modern human interaction, from gaslighting to micro-aggressions.

The gig concluded with a rapidfire series of one-liners and a hilariously honest reading from her childhood diary which confirmed, as if confirmation was needed, that Muslim Indian teens have the same stupidly intense crushes as any other teens around the world.

Her show is entitled Oh No! but when it comes to Ashfaq one can only conclude Oh Yes.

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