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instep profile
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.

By Saba Sartaj K

Photos 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 in Pakistan.

Saad 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 careers.

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 eyed expression.

"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 somebody.

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!" exclaims Danish.
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 serious tone.
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 Saad cheekily.

"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 Danish perkily.

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!