An India-based comedian has won the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s most prestigious comedy newcomer award, for the first time in its 40-year history.
Edinburgh Comedy Award judges announced on Saturday that Urooj Ashfaq has won Best Newcomer for her show Oh No!. The award is a springboard for outstanding comedy performers, many of whom have since become household names, both in the UK and internationally – from Eddie Izzard to Natalie Palamides.
Urooj, a 28-year-old stand-up comedian from Mumbai, was shortlisted for the award in her UK debut. In her taboo-breaking, intensely likeable show, she reflects on cultural differences, her experiences in therapy and her parents’ divorce. Her show is produced by Soho Theatre, with OML.
She is the first India-based comedian to win the award – and the first comedian of South Asian heritage to win since 1997.
Urooj said the win was “surreal”.
Born in Dubai, Urooj moved to Mumbai at the age of 12. She started out with open-mic nights at the age of 21, a regular in India’s rapidly-growing comedy scene, while watching US comedians like Sarah Silverman online. Her boundary-pushing humour and disarming charm quickly won her a big following at home, and a spot on India’s television channel TLC’s Queens of Comedy programme.
She is one of the six South Asian artists we have brought to Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year through Soho Theatre India.
Over the past decade, Soho Theatre has produced and introduced over 30 Indian acts in the UK, on stages ranging from Soho’s Dean Street venue to Hammersmith Apollo and the Royal Albert Hall. Previous Edinburgh Fringe lineups have included Vir Das, Aditi Mittal, Anuvab Pal and Sumit Anand.
Since 2017, Soho Theatre has also toured British comedy and theatre to India, including this year’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Show winner Ahir Shah (2017) as well as comedians Shaparak Khorsandi, Nina Conti, Lauren Pattinson and Olga Koch plus Natasha Marshall’s critically acclaimed play Half Breed. In 2022, Soho Theatre appointed a full-time, Mumbai-based comedy producer.
Mark Godfrey, Executive Director of Soho Theatre, said: ‘Soho Theatre have been working for over a decade to connect performers from the vibrant Indian comedy scene to UK audiences in Edinburgh and London, as well as presenting UK and international performers in India. Huge congratulations to Urooj, who becomes the first India-based artist to be nominated – and now to win – in the Award’s 40 year history. We thrilled for her success, delighted to be working with her and with many hugely talented performers from India, and closely with our partners OML.’
Rishabh Nahar, Senior Vice President of OML Entertainment, said: ‘Urooj’s show is as good as it gets and is at par with any other internationally acclaimed show. We’re so ecstatic to have been a part of this journey with her and can’t wait to see Urooj take over global stages. We’ve been very lucky to have Soho Theatre and their teams as our partners and confidants who’ve helped us solidify the Indian comedy scene in the UK. Grateful to the Fringe festival for building such an incredible and inclusive community.’
Urooj “can’t wait to be back in Soho” for a one-week run of her winning show, from Monday 30 October to Saturday 4 November at 8.45pm, tickets available through Soho Theatre, further shows will be announced soon. Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Show winner Ahir Shah’s Ends also has a week long Soho run from Monday 16 to Saturday 21 October at 7.30pm, tickets available through Soho Theatre.
Written by Nura Arooj