Ahir Shah has long joked about the contrast between what he looks like and how he sounds: his brown skin and posh accent. Now a new faultline has appeared between his substance and style, as the ardent polemicist of his early work gives way to a more conflicted thinker. But the emphatic tones remain. Dots describes the collapse of the certainties Shah felt in his youth, in the voice of a man who thinks he is right about everything.
I wondered, when watching his Edinburgh comedy award-nominated 2018 show Duffer, whether this style of delivery better suited Shah to polemical than personal comedy. But Dots persuades me he can do both. It finds the funny in Shah being very convinced about his lack of conviction, as the erstwhile ideologue questions his former zeal and the lapsed atheist casts around for new mantras to live by.
It starts conventionally, as Shah joins the chorus of comedians taking being woke to task. It’s exhausting, he says, to pretend stereotypes aren’t sometime based in truth, to say “person of colour” with a straight face or to take sides in every single battle in the culture wars. We seem to have forgotten that “you can sit one out”. It’s fine to not know; not knowing, indeed, might be an end in itself.
Which brings us to religion. Dots finds (as Duffer did before it) Shah drifting towards his ancestral Hinduism. Myths are more consoling than facts and “belief helps” in his battle against depression. If that doesn’t sound like a truckload of laughs, he finds both humour and poetry in his existential angst. One joke finds ex-smoker Shah looking for the vape equivalent of his toxic personality. Another – as he trawls his parents’ experiences for a how-to-live template – pins global overpopulation on his randy dad.
There are no pat conclusions, save for the succour Shah finds in one of our era’s hoariest inspirational bromides. But there’s a real ring of truth and hard-won humour in this portrait of an overthinker marooned between youth and adulthood, materialism and faith, between distant dying suns and holes in the floor of heaven.
• At Monkey Barrel Comedy, Edinburgh, until 25 August.