Leila Navabi starts her show by asking audience members for one-word answers regarding the future of comedy. It is an idea revisited throughout the show. Not just comedy’s future mind you, but Navabi’s as well. Her place in the industry is under her own microscope, asking if it still brings her the joy that it can bring to others following a series of hurdles and sucker punches. That she shares this journey in a punk cabaret format with infectious and gobsmackingly funny musical numbers is an amazing thing to be a part of.

Navabi says that she is better at writing nonsensical, ‘stupid’ songs than talking about identity. In reality, ‘Composition’ covers both, intertwining aspects of Navabi’s life into one extended musical piece. A real-life excerpt from BBC Radio Wales proves to be the highlight, an incredibly deadpan and bizarre incident begging for more context. ‘Composition’ is full of this kind of wry humour, with sensationally funny observations and turns that catch you completely off guard. Some masterful timing and delivery ensure that Navabi is already well into the next gag after giving you barely enough time to recover from the last one. As an exercise in daftness, ‘Composition’ can at times feel unparalleled. 

What marks Navabi out however is not her style, anecdotes, or even the fact that she is funny. She is incredibly philosophical and at times almost mournful about her journey, from being made a media pariah, to her first encounters with race and identity as a child. Often ‘Composition’ feels like it veers away from scripted comedy and opts for improvised, emotionally charged monologues that bring Navabi’s self-confessed fears to the surface. While she may appear at her most vulnerable in these moments, it is also here that she towers head and shoulders above most other performers of her ilk. It is an arresting, compelling experience heightened by laughter rather than ruined by it.

In some senses ‘Composition’ is a coming of age story. In others it is a damning indictment of the media, of prejudice, and of manipulation. Mostly however it is about Navabi, and it is rare to see such a raw, impassioned performance from someone whose principle goal is to make you laugh. So when anybody asks what the future of comedy looks like, you can be sure it features Leila Navabi – even if she is not so sure herself.

‘Composition’ runs until Sun 27 Aug 2023 at Pleasance Courtyard -The Attic at 21:45