Canal House, Edinburgh Previews: Ahir Shah: Duffer and The Hon. Tom Houghton: Tom Houghton the Honourable

Tonight I was in Nottingham at the Canal House for the first of the NCF Edinburgh Previews. This began at 1900, a hour earlier than usual and it felt odd seeing comedy in daylight. The numbers were pretty good, with most of the 100 or so seats being filled. One downside, though, was that there didn’t seem to be as many staff working the bar as per normal and so the start was delayed slightly in order to give everyone chance to get a drink.

Ahir Shah: Duffer

The first preview was that of Ahir Shah and it was entitled Duffer. Shah took to the stage and with his loud booming voice he sounded very much like Matt Berry. One of the first things he did was to playfully alert the audience to the fact that this show was a work in progress (it will naturally be reviewed as such) and that some of it would be bad. No one minded this and he received a good laugh for his frankness.

Shah began well by explaining his antecedents, which led into hearing about how he grew up being looked after by his gran. This set the scene for the show, which was pretty thought provoking. There were some very good lines in here, such as the jokes about reincarnation, Midlands, three degrees, Major and Currie was splendid and deserved a lot more than it received and the various callbacks to Bohemian Rhapsody, which were all a lot of fun. However, Allahu Akbar and explosions has been pretty much done to death, but in fairness Shah got a big laugh for both of them. Whilst I thought the line ‘and it’s closer’ wasn’t bad, I do think that is improvable. Shah made a fair point about gadgets listening in, but I don’t think he really got as close to the funny with it as what he could have done.

This was a very intelligently written show and it’s obvious that Shah is extremely well informed on a large number of subjects. However, I thought that at the moment, the weight of exposition got in the way of the funny. The format was mostly him speaking very quickly for a minute or so, giving the audience a tranche of backstory and then a short pause and a punchline. The reveals hit home pretty well and so on that level it worked well. However, over the length of the show, I found that this gave it something of an episodic feel and that possibly two thirds of his time was given to explaining things, or setting things up, with any time left over being for the humour. I know that set ups are required and that a scene does need to be painted, but I thought the balance was a bit out of kilter and my attention began to wane. At some points it began to feel a bit like a lecture with laughs and I did wonder how many other people were keeping up with the amount of information they were being given. I can imagine that this will be tightened up before August, though.

There was a rare interruption when a chap shouted out a question about Shah’s aunts, as he’d mostly spoken of his father, gran and various uncles. Shah fielded this well, but karma appears to have taken a hand, as just before the interval the heckler’s wife walked straight into a Perspex panel with a huge thud and neither were seen again.

Whilst this was a work in progress, Shah received regular laughs and the audience enjoyed it. There was a cathartic feel to the story and I think that if he were to edit it down so that there was less weight of exposition, the balance between story and funny will improve. This should be a good show when it is finished.

The Hon. Tom Houghton: Tom Houghton the Honourable

Houghton is an excellent act who I think will go far as a comedian and so I was especially interested in seeing his show. I wasn’t disappointed, either. He made a big impact from the off and the laughs flowed thick and fast. Not just ordinary laughs, these were proper belly laughs.

This show concerns Houghton’s upbringing, his dad’s ennoblement, Tom’s subsequent default rise and how for every success in life, there is someone in a crucial, but less glamorous role, who is holding the fort. Whilst I doubt that the story arc will change few people’s perceptions of the world, to me this doesn’t really matter. The show is incredibly funny and it will thoroughly entertain anyone who goes to see it and that is the important thing.

There is no denying that Houghton has won life’s raffle. He lives in one of the best addresses in the country, he has had what should have been a trouble free childhood and has been to places that few people will ever see. However, he is such a likeable person that no one could begrudge him this. Also, he is surprisingly down to earth. Whenever his list of good fortune begins to appear overwhelming, Houghton brings himself crashing back down to earth with a tale of humiliation or a mishap or two (Wetherspoons was great) and this helps to keep what he is saying relatable to the audience. He may be privileged, but he is just as prone to getting into a mess as anyone else. This is all pretty endearing.

There were a lot of superb lines in this show: Dominoes and social science were great. However, the daft puns were a lovely addition, too. I massively enjoyed all of those, the dafter the better. The orange lord, exorcise and cell mate were all laugh out loud funny. ‘Yawn raping’ was a new one on me and probably 80% of the audience, but the explanation only took 10 seconds, so this worked well.

The stories told by Tom were all of a very good quality, with lots of little lines and additions that helped to build them into something that everyone could easily picture. This was quite an immersive experience. His ability at doing different voices and accents was a huge advantage with this. My favourite was the squaddies on duty in Ulster – this really came to life in front of me. The only section that I thought was a bit of a lull was the ambush. That felt rather grim and seemed a bit out of step with the rest of the show. However, Houghton quickly pulled the mood back after the denouement and the show regained its feel good factor.

This was an incredibly funny show, chock-full of big laughs and I think the people up in Edinburgh are in for a treat.

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