CHUP interviewed Saad Haroon, a Pakistani comedian and creator of the first Pakistani improvisational comedy troupe, “BlackFish.” He is the creator, host and writer for Pakistan’s first English language satirical show, ‘The Real News’ which airs on Play TV. Saad was also on a solo English language comedy tour entitled, “Saad Haroon: Very Live,” which was filmed and is being made into a television show. He regularly performs stand up comedy and will perform several shows in the U.S., [We will post further information on those tour dates shortly]. Below, Saad answers CHUP’s questions on what inspired him to become a comedian in Pakistan, the obstacles he has faced, as well as the issues of media censorship following the state of emergency imposed by Musharraf last year:
Q: Pakistani Comedian – those are two words that are rarely heard together given that many Pakistani families expect their children to become the quintessential lawyers/bankers/engineers/doctors! What inspired you to pursue this career and did you face any obstacles?
A: I think the hardest person to get to accept the fact that I was a comedian was myself. I was actually a businessman, and I would perform nights and weekends, and I always told myself that sooner or later I would ‘ grow up’ and give it up. But the more I did the less I could think of giving it up, and one day I just went cold turkey… or should i say rubber chicken.
It’s tough to do comedy in Pakistan because the word ‘comedian’ has a very negative connotation which dates back a decade or three to a time when the perception was that only people who could not afford to become anything ‘substantial’ like a doctor or a lawyer would go into this business. But things are changing, albeit slowly. I have a very simple reason for becoming a comedian – I like to make people laugh. When i first started doing comedy it was a time in my life when all the people around me (and i mean ALL of them, this was Pakistan post 9/11) were not laughing as much as they should have been. And so comedy became the tool I used to change that.
Q: Many American comedians have drawn on President George W. Bush and other prominent U.S. political figures as inspiration for their jokes – is your comedy similarly inspired by Pakistani figures or events?
A: Yes, Pakistani humor thrives on politics. My older audiences especially love my jokes that are political. My theory is that many people were deprived of this form of expression for so long that now that the media is more free they revel in the fact that some of us can now say these things out loud. The Pakistani public has a healthy distrust and is to a great extent irritated by politicians and Pakistans other powerful organizations and so they are thrilled to see comedians take them apart. It is also important to mention that my jokes on George W. Bush also do very well in Pakistan.
Q: What are your thoughts on laughter being the best medicine?
A: The reality of life in Pakistan is a bitter pill to swallow, and I think comedy helps the medicine go down. I like to think we help people vent in a way they could not before. It might not fix the situation but it’s better than burning tires.
Q: Do you think comedy and satire can be used to communicate more serious political messages, particularly in the case of Pakistan?
A: Yes. In any country, satire is a very powerful tool used to convey social and political messeges and Pakistan is no different. Recently, with the advent of so many new channels and the freedom given to the media, people have seen a new wave of political satire shows that always prove to be the most popular on television. And even when the media was not free, satire shows like ‘ 50/50’ would always find a way to convey their messages whilst working under strict censorship laws.
Q: What are the responses to your routine in the United States and the UK versus in Pakistan? What kinds of jokes do people react to most in your routine?
A: The response has been great so far, I mostly use the material I have been using in Pakistan and also ‘tweak’ some things to make them more culturally relevant. But mostly, mainstream audiences in the West like the same jokes the Pakistani audiences like. On the other hand, some jokes don’t translate well at all and have fallen flat on stage and died a horrible death.
Q: Your satirical comedy show, “The Real News” pokes fun at current news events – did the media censorship that occurred during the state of emergency in November impact your show at all? How did you work around those pressures?
A: The state of emergency took almost every channel off the air and everyone was reeling. Our show did not air for a while, and when we came back on we were under strict new rules and so we would try to write more social comedy and also try to slip in a joke here or there but it was not fun at all. Quite soon we were banging our heads against the wall. But we would get away with a few good bits and also we started to focus on more international news. But now things are moving back to normal and hopefully, fingers crossed, they will repeal those rules and and we can start writing some good comedy again.
Below are two clips: one of “The Real News,” and the other of one of his stand up routines [For the list of CHUP’s past interviews, click here]: