Growing up, I quickly realised that it’s rarely okay to joke about traumatic topics. I always found this profoundly sad, as I found that coping with the struggles of my life was only really possible through comedy – anyone growing up around me can vouch that I liked cracking a “my dad doesn’t love me” joke when Father’s Day came around. On the whole, though, dark humour doesn’t really have a place in conversation, unless you’re playing Cards Against Humanity.
In spite of this vague and unspoken rule, Ahir Shah has managed to make a successful stand up comedy show all about death, suicide, immigration, and politics. It is wonderful, and very pleasing for both 16-year-old and 21-year-old Seren.
It sounds intense, and that’s because it is. Shah structures ‘Duffer’ around his grandmother’s life; initially living with Shah and his family, his grandmother (who called him her ‘Duffer’) was deported to India when Shah was only five. He uses this as a way to explore current immigration politics, and how this affected him growing up. It sounds heavy, but he’s crafted it in such a way that makes it light-hearted and comedic.
That’s where my discomfort came in: “oh, your treasured family member was deported by the government when you were five, leaving you estranged from a beloved maternal figure until your twenties? HAHAHA, nice!” It felt awful to laugh, but of course, that was the point. To laugh, and to think.
He used his show to also touch on our technological revolution, throwing us back to times where landlines were commonplace amongst households. Do you remember when you could either use the computer or the landline, but not both at the same time?
Shah recounts the experience of feeling inconvenienced by his uncle interrupting his online game play to chat with him on the phone. It turns out he was saying goodbye before dying by suicide. This segment cut through me like a knife, and it dawned on me that maybe Shah used his shows as a method of self healing, just like I did with my silence-inducing jokes during my teen years. Regardless, this was also a really funny piece which had the audience skating over the darker topics with laughter. To have that kind of skill is remarkable – what could have been a really uncomfortable show just came off as really intelligent and self aware.
Self healing is a prevalent part of the show. He speaks about how it’s easier to spend time with strangers than with family, because time with strangers doesn’t matter in the slightest. It’s easier. After speaking about his own experience with depression throughout the show, it’s easy to understand why he feels that way. It also means the world to someone like me to hear someone speak about depression in the exact way you do – making jokes and brushing it off.
After a long time touring India with his comedy, it was time to visit his grandmother for a final goodbye as she lays on her deathbed with dementia. The ending is inevitably heartbreaking, however Shah makes it so light-hearted that the whole audience burst into laughter.
The great thing about Ahir Shah is his incredible intelligence, and the way he uses this to create such difficult comedy. His politics is excellent because he criticises everyone, even himself; his view is multi-dimensional at all times.
His mannerisms are incredibly entertaining. My eyes were left streaming and my cheeks straining from the effort of constant laughter. He pokes fun at himself, fun at the world, and these moments are perfectly interspersed between the darker elements of the show. All in all, it’s expertly crafted and really well executed.