20 Questions for Ahir Shah
Casually taking a break from Campus, Skins, Footlights, stand-up and satire, Ahir Shah tells us about his favourite stand-up, being officially called a ‘lad’ by a London newspaper, and why none of the Cambridge comedians would be good company on a desert island.
Ahir Shah has written and directed the Footlights’ Spring Revue, taken a show to Edinburgh at 17, was on the writing team for Skins and most recently appeared as himself in Channel 4‘s Campus.
Who are your comedy influences?
My favourite comedian is Daniel Kitson, who’s by choice not very well-known, but I’d recommend to anyone. Aside from him: Dylan Moran, Stewart Lee, Doug Stanhope, Bill Hicks – though less so now – and Lenny Bruce.
When you came to Cambridge, did you have some grand plan for comedic success, or has it snowballed from nothing?
I did comedy before I came here, and the fact that there were things such as Clareification, College smokers and Footlights to get involved in was a large factor in me wanting to come here. I perhaps didn’t choose Cambridge for the right reasons, but I’m glad I did.
You edited in-College satire magazine Clareification for a year, how do you think this helped you develop as a comedian?
The experience of co-writing with Ali Lewis on a regular basis was immensely useful. As was finding out what works and what doesn’t within a certain market. Certain sections that we didn’t particularly like, such as Clareifornication (which documents the rumoured sexual activities of Clarites), were the ones most enjoyed by Clare students, and were integral in making the magazine a success.
What is harder, doing gigs in Cambridge or the ‘Real World’?
The ‘real world’. With Cambridge gigs, you will never come across a hostile audience. Everyone’s there to have a good time and are each other’s peers, so are fundamentally supportive of all of the acts. Things can still go badly, but people are more forgiving.
What are the best and worst heckles you’ve ever had?
I got one in January in Wimbledon, when, in reference to an earlier joke, a man shouted “You’ve got a chip on your shoulder!”, which was very clever – as I’d been telling a joke about a potato – and people in the audience picked up on it. But I didn’t at all, so it affected a 5 minute breakdown involving plunging the depths of the comedian’s psyche, before I realised what he had meant the entire time and had to regroup from there.
That would be simultaneously the best and worst; it was funny and pertinent, but it showed me up for being an absolute idiot.
How and where do you usually come up with your material?
Primarily when I’m not trying to. I can’t really sit down and say ‘right I’m going to have to do jokes now’. Certain wordplays and jokes work for that, but don’t really feature in my stand-up.
If you had to go to a desert island with four Cambridge comedians, who would they be and why?
Everyone would prove far too infuriating after a while, including and especially myself.
What’s been your proudest achievement in Cambridge?
In Cambridge, becoming a member of the Footlights and writing and directing their Main Show –
What is your proudest achievement outside Cambridge?
Hopefully it hasn’t come yet.
Will we be seeing you again in Edinburgh this year?
I’m writing and performing a solo show, which I need to do at some point, but time is running short.
What else would you like to achieve whilst still in Cambridge?
I think there’s room outside of College and Footlights smokers (where you’re limited by a narrow audience or a three minute slot respectively) to establish a forum for new comics to do lengthier Uni-wide stand-up. I’d quite like to do that next year, as long as it didn’t fuck up my degree.
You’ve worked in a number of media: stand-up, satire, writing, directing, acting; which is your favourite and which do you think you are best at?
I’ve enjoyed them all for various reasons. Stand-up was my first love, part of me will always enjoy doing that more than anything else. The reason I’ve enjoyed everything else is because they’ve been so novel, particularly writing collaboratively, especially with Lowell Belfield, Jason Forbes and Emma Sidi for the Footlights’ Spring Revue.
How has your brand of comedy changed at Cambridge?
I used to be a lot more interested in political stand-up, but I’ve moved more towards satire now.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Not answering questions like that.
If you could have a drink with any professional comedian, who would it be?
Dylan Moran. There wouldn’t be much conversation though, I would just sit and listen to him talk, whilst offering him more wine.
Do you see vacations as a chance for time off or to do even more comedy?
The summer is obviously dominated by the Fringe, as it will be again this year. When I go home at Christmas and Easter though, it gives me the chance to do longer stand-up sets, which I relish.
You’ve appeared on, or written for Skins, Campus and Newsnight – to name but a few – which has been your favourite contribution?
Undoubtedly, when The Metro reviewed Episode 1 of Campus, and referred to me as ‘a naked lad’.
You’ve spoken at the Oxford Union, which do you prefer: ours or theirs?
I’m not really sure because I’ve lost my Union membership card.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt doing comedy in Cambridge?
Whilst mostly audiences are forgiving, there are people – particularly when it comes to Footlights – who love to hate. Also, that occasionally you will get shot to shit by student journalism, which for a group as insecure as comedians is a frightening thing.
Finally, what’s your best joke?
I don’t have any actual jokes. I mainly just scream.
Photography by Tamsin Lim.