Dress for Success: Ahir Shah on his new tour
With the world still raging around us all, Ahir Shah chats about how his new show, Dress, rehearses for a new normal
“It’s just, I think, inevitably changed all of us. Right?,” says Ahir Shah, when asked about the past two years. “I think it would be absolutely absurd to say that this [COVID-19, obviously], which for almost all of us will be the largest collective psychological shock of our lives, hasn’t had any sort of marked impact on the way we go about basically everything.”
His new show, Dress, aims to make some sense of it all. “For so much of this last period of time, it’s felt like we were engaged in dress rehearsals in our own lives, constantly in preparation for life again, but not quite there.
“I'm trying to give a chronicle of the last eighteen months or so, without going too heavy-handed on the obvious stuff, because one of the weird things about this is that we all experienced the same thing. So I’m just trying to give my perspective on what's happened in life for me, and the stuff that was going on in the country socially, politically, globally. The way that this is sort of affecting us, as a species.”
Is the Dress tour a shoo-in for the Edinburgh Fringe this year? “I certainly will come up to visit in some capacity, because I think that my August would just feel very, very weird if I wasn't there in some way. But, for example, I loved the 2021 Fringe, such as it was, because it was relatively few comics doing relatively few shows. And the people who were there were in a really good mood, and we were able to start working things out towards what we want to talk about in the future.”
Shah acknowledges the pandemic’s effects, but does he feel that it’s changed his approach to comedy? “I’m sure that it has affected – understandably – the way that I see the world, which obviously will feed into comedy, and everything. But yeah, I always regard comedy as sort of my vehicle for processing what I’ve been thinking about in the period leading up to that show.”
And with his personal brand of political and philosophical comedy, Shah never shies away from being verbose. “Yeah, I mean, my natural tendency is very much ‘why one word when ten would do’, as you will inevitably notice from this conversation that we're having.
“But to be able to condense the way you're feeling about a particular thing into a joke or into a story, and then be able to express that is, I think, such an extraordinary thing, and something that I hope that I didn't take for granted before but certainly don't take for granted now.”
As someone who often seems like he knows just what to say – does he ever find himself truly lost for words? “I mean, today, as you know, this afternoon, I watched the Prime Minister trying to style out a massive garden party at a time where you know, you weren't legally allowed to have loved ones or whatever.”
It’s a moment that speaks for itself, yet Shah genuinely seems undeterred by the challenge of addressing how the pandemic has been handled and the bare-faced corruption of the government. “I think that it is something that's worthwhile talking about because otherwise, it could very easily get lost. The sheer scale of the incompetence and dishonesty at the heart of everything that's happened over the last 18 months are incredibly important things to bring up, honestly, lest we just end up forgetting about them and brushing them under the carpet.”
It’s hard not to wonder whether performing material based around the pandemic and political mess would be, to say the least, draining – but turning our shared disbelief and experiences into something we can all laugh at is what Shah does best. “There's a wonderful quote from the comedian Lenny Bruce, who said, ‘All of my comedy is based on destruction and despair. If the world were perfectly tranquil, I would be on the breadline right behind J. Edgar.’ I always liked that.”