Laughing up a storm
Saad Haroon and Danish Ali have their audience in stitches
You have to see Saad Haroon and Danish Ali once. They are stars
in Karachi and have started touring Lahore and Islamabad leaving
smiles and laughter in their wake.
Saba Sartaj K
by Khaula Jamil
Seamlessly hilarious, Saad Haroon and Danish Ali are comedians truly
worthy of these apocalyptic times. They are of the few fantastic minds
in stand up and improvisational comedy in Pakistan. Sublimely intelligent,
eerily humble, their unique blend of idiot/savant rants make them
the true anti-heroes of comedy in our country. You've seen them on
The Real News and numerous stand up gigs throughout the urban centres
of the country. Saad also holds Open Mic Nights regularly at a local
café. The duo bring pandemonium by the bucketful to the stage,
delighting crowds everywhere they go with their fast paced comedy
action. Thanks to them, stand up comedy (in English) has truly arrived
does it all. Humorist, writer and one of the funniest stand up comedians
we've seen in a long time. He was the brainchild behind the brilliant
comedy troupe Black Fish, which disbanded last year. He stepped down
from Black Fish before they eventually broke up moving on to other
According to him, he
wanted to work and focus on different projects such as the stand
up tour. "I wanted to figure out what all I could do. I wanted
to explore and didn't want to be stereotyped into that person who
people look at and say "oh, he's the guy who could just do
this!" He stumbled into comedy when he came back from the United
States shortly after which September 11 took place leaving everyone
in shock and gloom. He felt there was a need to cheer people up
and saw to it personally to bring just a little bit of laughter
and lightheartedness back into our society.
With a great breadth of intellect and an edginess all his own, Saad,
it seems, has a strange goofy yet intellectual insight into people
and is one of the most original comedians working in Pakistan today
. A year an a half ago he quit his job in the textile business and
is now pursuing a full time career in comedy.
Danish, his wing man and an aspiring doctor by day, is brilliantly
funny with an almost fanatical look on his face as he performs at
their gigs or in front of a live television audience. Its like he's
seeing through reality and presenting it to you in the same manner
as a ninja pulling your heart out and showing it to you before you
die laughing! (If that makes any sense) He had been previously performing
at small gigs in Islamabad (where he was living with his family)
and met Saad at one of his Open Mic Nights after he moved to Karachi.
Meeting up with the two was an experience in its own. Every now
and then the room would pound with some heavy laughs coming from
the duo and their warm generosity and constant offerings for anything
ranging from drinks to chocolates to candy really was very touching.
There is no doubt in the fact that they are very comfortable together
as a team and really enjoy doing what they do. At 30 and 24 respectively,
Saad and Danish have come a long way. They have carved out a niche
for themselves and have quite a fan following. The Real News is
Pakistans first ever English comedy show. The show is created by
Saad who also hosts the show along with Danish. The show makes fun
of actual news events using political and social satire and follows
a format very similar to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which
is an Emmy-award winning satirical television programme produced
and aired on Comedy Central, except that very smartly The Real News
uses Pakistan all things Pakistani as fodder for humour.
According to Saad, ninety percent of what they do is writing. "We
play ideas back and forth, forage newspapers and magazines and online
content for stories, ideas and topics. Literally, ninety percent
of what we do is writing and writing and writing and then ten percent
is shooting and things like that. So what you see on TV is really
a very small, actually, quite the smallest part of the process!
If you sat in on one of our meeting it could be really boring for
you. There are, at times, very long hours of silence and it's not
interesting at all."
Like they say, theres always a method to the madness and even though
its comedy, its hard work and they have to prepare and go over every
little detail just like in those big multinational companies where
the slightest glitch can have everything crumbling down. They take
their work very seriously and quite literally, it's no 'joke' for
them. There's nothing worse then a joke going wrong.
"Saad basically structures out all his thoughts before hand
but me, I just shoot them out as soon as I get them in my head.
It's different for both of us. My style is more annoying I guess!,"
says Danish laughingly, in his classic and unique funny man tone.
According to Saad, he was very hesitant to touch television for
a while. "Executing anything in this country is tough. We still
don't execute a TV show the way we should. We just don't have the
budget. When I was approached by the channel, I told them I'd only
do it if I have complete freedom for anything I want to do without
any interference. They said 'okay'. And here we are!"
"There are different kinds of comedy, in Black Fish it was
improvisational so it was based on the structure that we did and
the suggestions we got from the audience. What we do right now in
The Real News can be called 'topical comedy' because we get topics
which are relevant from today, what's going on etc and we make that
into viable comedy scripts. When you talk of The Real News your
talking of a specific type of comedy so when we write, we write
for that genre. That's why the internet and newspapers etc come
in handy. We do a lot of research. We don't have a team of writers
so we have to go through everything ourselves. It's a real bummer
at times, we'd rather have someone highlight things for us and tell
us 'this will be interesting!'" says Saad with his usual bright
"We are the most well informed comedians!" announces Danish,
with a touch of unreal regal air and pomposity. "Sometimes
it's great going through the newspaper because we come across the
most absurd news pieces and articles and were like 'WHAT! This can't
be happening for real! They give us a great deal of material. Like
the news on the guy who went into Hillary Clinton's office acting
like he had explosives strapped around him and it turned out that
they were road flares just because he was going through a divorce!
We get great ideas from such pieces."
Saad also organizes Open Mic Nights in Karachi on a regular basis.
According to him, they serve as a forum for aspiring young artistes
who want an opportunity to share their talent with an audience.
"We have a disbalanced society, if you look at it. Parents
do not let their children become artists. It wasn't all that easy
for me either. I had to prove it to my parents before I could take
this up full time. I wanted to create a platform where young people
can come and explore their talents and build on them."
The duo disagree that it is difficult to be creative in Pakistan
where there are so many social and political taboos. For them, there
are topics that are off limit but then, they see no reason why that
should effect their creativity.
"There's so much to make fun of," says Saad gleefully,
with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, looking not a day older then
15. One wonders what his secret to eternal youth is. He says it's
because he laughs so much. He quickly adds that they always try
to refrain from cracking jokes which would seriously offend or hurt
We all know comedy in this country does not usually pay enough,
but for Saad and Danish, the 'money is good.' For them, there's
no greater feeling than being up on a stage and making a room full
of people laugh. "It makes you feel like a billion dollars!"
The only regret they have is that there is just no concept of promoting
and providing training to aspiring comedians in Pakistan.
There is no school or college which offers anything of the sort.
They recently tried to do their part by putting together a small
workshop where they trained about 60 to 70 young people in the art
of comedy, all in one room! However, it is not easy.
Saad spent a lot of years training Black Fish and claims that it
is a "very long and hard process of training people and is
extremely exhausting." He says that for the past couple of
years he has been concentrating on doing stand up shows and solos
but surely will go back to training and stuff like that. "What
we do is so in between here and there, there's no school for theatre,
except for the likes of NAPA which teaches classical theatre. What
we do is comedy which is a new type of theatre as far as Pakistan
is concerned, or even the rest of the world. The workshop we held
was great fun and the kids had a good time, but it was just a one
off thing. There is no where they can get proper training."
They believe that to a great extent, people can learn how to do
comedy, but up to a certain point and after that, it's all talent.
"You either know what you're doing or you don't," says
Saad to which Danish adds, "The first time I did open mic,
I thought I was it, I felt on top of the world. I had nailed it.
But now when I look back, it was nothing. I've grown and I've learnt
so much after meeting Saad. I had never before done anything close
to what he was doing."
Asking them if they ever plan to reach out to the 'awam, as in do
comedy in Urdu, the answer was in the affirmative, however, Saad
added wittily, "We will reach out slowly, the awam is a hundred
and sixty million and if so far we have an audience of just of a
million, that's still more people out there than in Holland so it's
more then enough for us, there's a country within a country."
Saad recently made a stand up tour of Pakistan which he got taped.
He also went and interviewed a lot of local comedians and made it
into this kind of documentary on Pakistan's journey of standup and
comedy. On asking him what he thinks of our local comedians, Saad
replied, "Comedians of Pakistan which include the likes of
Omar Sharif and Bushra Ansari are great but they're not enough.
They are few and far between. Shows like Super Karara and Koi Hai
Jo Haumain Hansai have brilliant comedians. But if you look at it,
there's really not much out there. We're hoping these things will
slowly build and then hopefully we'll get another generation of
comedians out Pakistan."
In these trying times as well, there's always something they can
find to make fun of. They are political and social comics without
stepping on any toes. There is a lot of social commentary in what
they do and say, though they don't quite agree.
"We don't know politics. Our stuff might have some social relevance
but that's just stuff we see plainly ourselves. We don't claim to
have a whole lot of intelligence," says Saad, in a slighty
The emergency situation and whatever has followed it seems has had
little impact on the lives and work of these comics. For them, commenting
on the situation is silly. If they can't come up with a better solution
or provide a better alternative, they would much rather keep mum
about it. Everyone has an opinion but no one has any answers. According
to them, they're just comedians, their job is to make people laugh
and they would much rather just stick to doing that instead of forming
and handing out opinions on the political situation by the bucketful,
as most people seem to be doing these days.
"We do what we do to make people laugh, not to make a point."
Their work hasn't been effected, however, they have been asked to
keep it toned down a bit.
"What we do is in English, no one is listening!" says
"It did freak us out a bit in the beginning because a lot of
our jokes were political but at the end of the day, there's still
so much we can make fun of. See, Shaukat Aziz is not a part of the
government anymore and we make fun of him. Everyone will leave the
government someday and then we will make fun of them!" adds
They both love their work and can't imagine life without it. They
are young, smart and in demand. People are so very restricted in
terms of what they will laugh at content wise but the way Saad and
Danish deal with most issues is very clever. The fact that they
don't use any foul language or don't bring it up and mention it,
is very fitting in their style. Squeaky clean. A comic who has to
use a foul word to get a laugh is like a karate expert who has to
pull a gun. Clean comedy is much harder and it's harder to get people
to laugh at it.
They're getting done with the second season of The Real News and
Saad's Stand up show will be on air at some point in the future.
They have plans to travel a lot more and will be taking their acts
to the US, UK and India and next summer will see them on a definite
Pakistan tour again. The future looks bright and shining for Saad
Haroon and Danish Ali. Here's hoping they're laughing all the way!