March Issue 2010
Getting Serious About Being Funny
It has been clinically proven time and again: Laughter is good for you. And speaking for myself at least, the hour and a half of side-splitting fun at the PACC improved my outlook on life considerably. Saad Haroon, of Blackfish fame, held a series of stand-up comedy evenings in Karachi in February. And if the packed auditorium was anything to go by, his home city was more than ready for this, as yet little explored in Pakistan, genre of laughs.
We know that we have wit aplenty. Pakistani comics are second to none when it comes to hilarious material, mostly scripted in Urdu of course, but the acerbic punch lines and double entendres are usually interludes within larger entertainment shows. The concept of settling down for the evening to be entertained by one performer who, besides his scripted material, relies on his interaction with the audience to come up with spontaneous laughs is relatively unusual in Pakistan. This genre is imported from the West and Saad Haroon’s sensibility is definitely western as well. He would be categorised as one of the “burger” crowd, as would his audience, the greatest evidence of this being the fact that the language of choice for the evening was English. This is perhaps a niche audience but those who are a part of it were in for a treat.
The opening act of the evening was newcomer Danish Ali, who held the audience captive for the first 10 minutes. His rendition of a Batman movie trailer, transplanted to Karachi from Gotham city, swept actors, politicians and self-styled maulvis in our midst into farcical situations that only Karachiites can appreciate. But this was just the warm up. Saad Haroon then took the stage and turned up the hilarity level a few more notches. True to the culture of stand-up comedy, nothing was sacred. Race, religion, gender, everything was fair game for the evening’s laughs but, unlike some western comedians, the jokes did not become obnoxious or offensive. Saad was quite gentle, in fact, in his handling of audience members with whom he chose to repartee; in the West, some stand-up acts can be quite cruel with their prey. He managed to build up an easy camaraderie with the audience and used tact and wit to handle even a particularly surly member of the audience.
All the travails of life in Karachi, from the real to the ridiculous, were covered but with a sense of ownership and affection for the chaotic metropolis we call home. Saad’s take on crabbing in the polluted waters of Keamari and the paan-chomping Karachi culture was both original and hilarious as he used physical comedy and mimicry to drive home his punch lines. Our respected politicians are always fair game for a few laughs; in fact comedians should be grateful to them for providing so much material to work with, and now the Taliban also lend themselves well to satire, grim though it may be. It may seem insensitive to laugh about issues like suicide bombings and terror attacks but it can be a useful coping mechanism for a society such as ours which is trapped in a nightmare of gruesome deaths and uncertainty. Saad’s twist on the otherwise extremely disturbing interview of a suicide bomber, for example, allows us to look monstrosities in the face and, not to take them less seriously, but perhaps to release some stress about them.
Accompanied by a tuneful guitarist, Saad also regaled the audience with a few songs, written of course by himself. The closing number, which gave a brief political history of the country under our different military heads of state, saw this talented performer at his irreverent best.
In our country’s present political climate, it takes not only a finely honed sense of the ridiculous but also courage to get up on stage and tell jokes in a society not exactly known for its tolerance. The young people who put this show together deserve applause for engaging live with an audience that may be harbouring people of all types and inclinations. Who knows, the ability to laugh at ourselves may well prove to be our salvation.
Zahra Chughtai has worked and written for Pakistan's leading publications including Newsline, the Herald and Dawn. She continues to write freelance.