'An American comedian whose edges haven't entirely been sanded off...' | Tim Harding's comedy diary

'An American comedian whose edges haven't entirely been sanded off...'

Tim Harding's comedy diary

Tim Harding's comedy diaryReviewer Tim Harding gives a rundown of the best comedy he's been watching in London this past fortnight... 

Is it just me or are we getting more fancy American comedians passing through London recently? It seems to be in vogue for US comics to bring their shows to Soho Theatre or sometimes the Moth Club as a work in progress, although very often the shows appear close to finished by the time they make it over here. Presumably the idea is that they can put the final touches on their work while charging £25 a ticket and then still make their official debut Stateside, but I freely admit I’m not up to speed on the economics of the whole thing. 

I’ve always practised a conscious rejection of the glamour of American comedians – they’ve undeniably got some great exports but I think the UK and Australian scenes retain a fecund experimentalism that produces rougher, funnier, more interesting work.

But one American whose corners haven’t been entirely sanded off is Demi Adejuyigbe, who came to prominence on Vine before graduating to writing jobs on The Good Place and James Corden’s late-night show. He’s maybe best known for his series of annual September videos in which he makes increasingly elaborate music videos for the Earth, Wind & Fire classic.

His new show at Soho Theatre, Demi Adejuyigbe is Going to Do One (1) Backflip has a lot of the hallmarks that I associate more with British fringe acts – ropey audio cues, songs with no discernible connection to the show, and an extensive use of PowerPoint: all positives in my book. 

He seems to have purposefully created the lightest, least essential show available to him, flitting between jazz pastiches and goofy Halloween songs, but it’s a very enjoyable way to spend an evening, his winning charm vaulting him easily over the culture barrier.

Also at Soho, LA comic Leslie Liao’s The Nighttime Routine was heavier on its feet. A former HR staffer for Netflix now in possession of her own special on the platform, she’s not here to take risks, hitting all the expected quadrants in a UK debut that sometimes feels like a plug-and-play exercise. 

Setting her table as a broadly discontented Chinese-American millennial, she covers cultural differences, modern dating and the differences between men and women, leaning heavily on the old reliable ‘make some noise if you’re single/partnered/Asian/white/sleepy/a parent/old/young’ trick to generate the atmosphere that her material doesn’t quite warrant. It’s presented with a confidence that only occasionally masks the stale odour.

Ready for some homegrown talent, I finally caught up with Ahir Shah’s Edinburgh-winning 2023 show Ends, as he ran through it on the eve of a recording. And yes, I’m very late to the party; he must have been glowingly reviewed by every outlet in the country by now, and the win in Edinburgh confirmed the show’s putative quality. I’m largely on side with all that, although I feel there’s still a lot of room for him to grow. 

Ends is a story that focuses on Shah’s nanaji (maternal grandfather), his experiences as an immigrant and what he gave up for his family, but also looks closely and affectingly at the changing nature of British-Asian relations over the course of the last few decades, and how Ahir’s life in present-day Britain might have looked to his nanaji. 

It balances the political with the personal with extreme deftness and confidence. A political comic by nature, he reflects very amusingly on the dichotomy of the importance of Rishi Sunak's rise to power (a relatively good Indian boy but never captain of the cricket team) and the catastrophe of 14 years of Tory rule.

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Published: 22 Mar 2024

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