KARACHI: It was billed as a talk on using humour to deconstruct difficult ideas in Pakistani society but, thankfully, the popular standup comedian Saad Haroon had the gumption to turn it into an interactive event so that things did not get dull and the audience could enjoy his presence in the Aga Khan University auditorium on Tuesday evening. And enjoy they did.
Haroon, who recently stood second in the ‘Funniest Person in the World’ competition, started off by informing the audience that it was a special time in his life as it was the 10th anniversary of his comedy career, so too was of his father telling him not to do comedy.
Taking a jibe at medical school students, who comprised a major chunk of the audience, he said med students had no choice because their parents wanted them to study medicine. In a rare moment of seriousness, he articulated that his job was “to show you something in real life which is in front of you but you never saw before”.
Going down memory lane for a brief period, Haroon said he began his career with improv comedy and afterwards gravitated towards standup. To prove his skill in both genres, he asked those who were present in the auditorium to suggest any topic to him to speak on.
A young man by the name of Faisal raised his hand and suggested ‘taxes’. Haroon invited Faisal to the podium and requested him to finish his sentences as he delivered a speech on taxes. After uttering the sentence “I don’t earn that much money” Haroon looked expectantly at him to complete the line, to which Faisal said, “I buy taxi”. This prompted the comedian to retort, “yes, comedy in the day, taxi at night”. The exchange led to the subject of the IMF and Faisal said the word ‘girlfriends’. Haroon replied the IMF people should go to their girlfriends (implying things will be alright then).
Haroon said his father wanted him to become a businessman for he thought it was in his son’s blood. Again, keeping the programme relevant to its venue, he remarked that as if his father had sent his blood sample to the AKU that showed it was half DNA and half MBA.
Switching back to the talk-giving mode, the comedian argued society compelled him to talk about different issues. One of the earliest jokes that he wrote, he said, was on how divided Karachi was and the fact that he himself lived in the Defence/Clifton bubble and only got out of the bubble during occasions such as Eid.
He kept on interacting with the audience throughout the event extracting humour out of the conversation he was having with them. After a little more than half an hour, the floor was opened for a question-and-answer session.
The first question that was put to him was about how to deal with a subject like death in comedy. Haroon agreed that at times it became difficult to make people laugh, especially in our society. He recounted an incident to prove his point. Once he saw someone drowning at the beach, and when that person was taken out of the water, Haroon’s female cousin, who was a doctor, could not give him a CPR because that would have put her life in danger.
Replying to the question about where the comedians should draw the line in order not to offend people, he said, “It takes practice. Also, it’s important [for a comedian] not to take yourself seriously.”
On the subject of whether comedy could be taught, Haroon was of the opinion that it could be, but “the harder you work at it, the funnier you get. There are rules. It doesn’t come easily to you.”
Haroon agreed with one of the questioners’ view that those who did comedy in English got away with many things. He said Urdu had a much larger and critical audience. “The more people you interact with, the more angry people you find.” He rejected the Karachi/Lahore, Sindh/Punjab divide in terms of better audience, claiming “I stay away from that”.
When someone pointed out that Haroon appeared to be influenced by Lenny Bruce, he acknowledged the legendary comedian’s talent, commenting Bruce broke all barriers and yet never acquired fame.
Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2015