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Laughing up a storm
Saad Haroon continues to carve a niche for himself as Pakistan's
pioneering English comedian

By Maliha Rehman


Who knew that comedy was really such serious business? Saad Haroon's recent stand-up comic act was a rollicking, hilarious potpourri of political satire, funny songs and cultural jokes. A few days later Saad shares that the show was the result of eight months of hard, grueling work.

One went to meet Saad Haroon expecting to meet a funny, garrulous young comedian - onstage, he certainly is a barrel of laughs. But in real life, Saad is more introspective than slapstick funny. He certainly is passionate about comedy but he isn't himself a walking, talking comic act. I guess we expect comedians to be funny in everyday life just like they are when performing. It's difficult to imagine them as regular individuals with regular ambitions, plans and dilemmas. We expect their every sentence to contain a punch line.

Saad is great at what he does but more than anything else, he comes off as someone who loves his work and is willing to work very hard to achieve his goals. So far, so good. His recent standup show has run to sold-out packed houses and he's a riot on stage. As he himself says, ÒComedy is just one aspect of my personality. I also want to one day maybe direct a film or write a book. I believe that with hard work, you can accomplish anything you want.Ó

Seated in the spacious drawing room of his house, where he lives with his parents, Saad explains how being a comedian can be emotionally draining. ÒIn an hour-long stand-up act, you have to come up with a punch line every 30 seconds and it has to be really funny. There are days when I am locked in my room for five hours and come up with nothing and then there are mornings when I wake up and immediately think up three great jokes.Ó

His chosen career may be trying but, nevertheless, Saad looks exuberant when he is on stage. He launches into songs at the drop of a hat, accompanied by Amin Arif on the guitar; plays the harmonica with flair; quips about everything ranging from weddings to pollution to politics and picks on squirming members of the audience and bamboozles them with trick questions and wisecracks. His friend and fellow-comedian Danish Ali opens his act for him and though Saad and Danish have both been performing for a while now - Saad for 10 years while Danish for four - they look more like young boys having the time of their lives rather than avant-garde comedians.

Saad is in his early 30's yet he looks ebulliently young - no stress lines, no signs of disappointment, no caustic comments on life. One credits his youthful looks to the fact that he loves his job. ÒI enjoy making people laugh,Ó he agrees with me. ÒI worked in textiles for six years, moonlighting as a comedian. Then, one day I decided that this was what I really wanted to do. I had a hard-time convincing my parents. Nobody in my family had attempted doing something like this - they're straightforward, business-oriented people. They took their time accepting my work but now, finally, they are able to acknowledge that I am not too bad as a full-time comedian. It's great when I can bring that extra happiness to people's lives,Ó he reasons rather altruistically.

Altruism aside, his jokes are all in English and the songs he sings are parodies of English songs.
When grilled about the trials of pursuing a career in comedy in English when most Pakistanis speak Urdu or at the most, stilted, laboured English, he says: ÒIt's true that my audience is limited, so far, I've performed internationally and in Pakistan, only in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. I do want to perform in other cities eventually, perhaps in Urdu. But when I do attempt comedy in Urdu, I want to do it well. Right now, my target audience, people who are fluent in English, do enjoy my shows and come back to see more.Ó

Saad began his tryst as a comedian 10 years ago when he formed Pakistan's first ever improvisational comic troupe, Blackfish, along with some friends.

Even though Blackfish steadily rose to fame, the group eventually disbanded. All the members had day jobs or higher studies to pursue. Saad, though, continued on. In his tour, Saad Haroon Very Live, he performed standup comedy acts in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

With The Real News, a TV show he hosted, wrote and produced, he reverted from improvisational comedy to writing comic scripts. The show, in which Saad was accompanied by another young comedian, Danish Ali, focused on ridiculing current news and happenings. ÒDanish and I would scour newspapers daily and come up with jokes related to recent affairs,Ó recalls Saad. ÒSometimes we were told to tone things down - we were admonished, 'don't make fun of the army' or 'don't make fun of this or that political party' - but overall, we were given a free hand with our content.Ó

ÒAs a rule, though, I believe in humor that has some sense to it. What's so funny about dressing an actor up as a certain politician and making him sing a song? Isn't it better to make fun of something that particular politician has done? Freedom of speech and media is a great thing but you have to use it carefully. If you use it callously, someone or the other will eventually take it away from you.Ó

Even now, a lot of Saad's jokes focus on Pakistan's political circumstances. He reasons that some political antics are just so ridiculous he just has to make fun of them. However, there are certain topics that he considers taboo. Walking the fine line between harmless hilarity and unpleasant impertinence, Saad explains, ÒI think that we are a very religious nation and so, I never joke about religion.

Cover Photo by Amean J