Zaid Ali aka Zaid Ali T aka the internet's favourite desi humourist, is late and apologetic.
I meet with Zaid two days before he's scheduled to make an appearance at the Hum Style Awards, HUM TV's first stab at an award show dedicated solely to fashion.
With a 5 million-strong following on Facebook eager to devour his next video (which he'll likely script, direct and star in as per usual), perhaps Zaid's earned the right to be fashionably late - or am I simply swayed by his youthful charm?
He is young -- only 21 years old. Almost too young to be flown into Pakistan from his home in Canada especially to make a brief appearance in a show that's going to be beamed all around the world.
Yet here he is, a testament to the success of his formula, which is to make fairly straightforward videos poking fun at the often hilarious tics of Pakistanis and the desi community abroad. His video "When a girl calls you bhai," released on Facebook in December last year, earned a whopping 15 million views and half a million likes, to give you an idea of his reach. And though he's been accused of stereotyping South Asians and stealing jokes, his fan base keeps growing every day.
In person Zaid is slightly shy, not much like the exuberant persona he adopts for his videos. It's a reminder of how his work is, ultimately, a scripted performance to make you laugh, not a peek inside his own world.
During our interview he explains what he's getting up to in Pakistan, what his family thinks of his work and more.
Images: Appearing in the HUM Style Awards is your first look inside Pakistan's rising entertainment industry. What do you think of it? How do you find the people and the general atmosphere?
Zaid Ali: The thing is, I'm not familiar with a lot of the actors because I'm not familiar with Pakistani dramas and stuff. I'm familiar with Fawad Khan and HSY and people like that, but a lot of the people on set I don't know. The people I do know, it's nice to meet them and good to know that they're down to earth and they have a good personality. In an industry like this you expect people who are like, on the higher level, they might have ego problems or something but no, everyone's nice and it's a welcoming environment.
Images: So you don't watch Pakistani dramas, but you do watch Pakistani films, right?
Zaid Ali: Well, I've seen one: Jawani Phir Nehi Aani. I thought it was definitely something that I laughed at. But I haven't seen any Pakistani movies other than that. I mean I've heard of them - Bin Roye and all that - but haven't seen them.
But there is definitely a lot of hype around Pakistani movies around the world right now.
Images: Does your mom follow Pakistani dramas and movies?
Zaid Ali: My mom doesn't even listen to songs! She's a very conservative person. If my sister is watching a drama she might watch one, but that's it.
Images: In that case, what does your family think of you being here? And of your videos?
Zaid Ali: They're really supportive. They think it's a really good opportunity for me to branch out from social media into actual media, like television.
Thing is, videos on social media are slowly dying down now, Every other person is doing them. And it's to evolve and start something new, and use my comedy in movies or dramas. Well, actually dramas might be difficult because they tend to be romantic and I'm more a comedy type person. But yeah, my parents just want me to explore the next step.
Images: So do you have anything on the cards movie-wise here in Pakistan? Or in Canada?
Zaid Ali: I literally just came back from a meeting about a movie, they have my role and a script ready, I just have to finalise everything in this week. I feel like, since most of my fans are from Pakistan, it would be better to start locally. Also, films in Pakistan tend to be much cleaner than Hollywood or Bollywood movies. See, whatever fame is written for you it's by God. So my perception is that, 'do everything that's clean and leave the rest up to God.' Whatever is destined for you, you'll get it.
So that's why I wanted to start with Pakistani cinema. Who knows, I might not even have the potential to be an actor. It's just something to experiment with and see if people like it.
I mean, the only two conditions for me to do a movie are that it has a message and its clean. And well, it doesn't even necessarily have to to have a message, maybe it could just be humorous, but the reason I want to make it clean is that I think the one thing cinema is lacking is that you can't watch a lot of movies with your parents. Pakistani cinema is pretty good in this respect though.
And one thing I'm known for is bringing families together. My videos are clean and all generations can relate to them, and I feel like that's the best sort of content to provide people with.
Image: Speaking of family, you mentioned your mom - what does your dad think of your videos?
Zaid Ali: My dad is like a hidden fan (laughs). As soon as I release a video my dad will start sharing it and tag all my family members.
Images: So you'll be spending more time in Pakistan now. Is your family at all interested in you... finding a spouse while you're here?
Zaid Ali: Noooo. My parents have told me I can marry whoever I want. I want to marry someone who's not related to the media and entertainment industry. I still think there's a long way to go. I mean, I'm only 21 years old. So I have a few years left at least. There's no arranged marriage or any problem like that.
Images: So you're not here to find someone to marry.
Zaid Ali: No, no (laughs). There are a lot of beautiful Pakistani girls here though.
Images: And I'm sure a lot of them are fans who want selfies with you...
Zaid Ali: Yea... but I guess it's just good to hold down your morals and values. A lot of girls in Pakistan actually get very frank with you very fast, even more than in Canada, like, girls will put their arms around you when you're taking pictures...
Images: So you're a shy guy.
Zaid Ali: No I'm not shy (laughs). And it's not that the girls have bad intentions, it's just that they've seen me online and they want to show their appreciation, but it's a little weird for me because my mom has taught me to do everything as clean as possible.
Images: Give us the scoop on what you'll be doing at the HUM Style Awards? What should we expect?
Zaid Ali: Don't expect too much! It's best to expect nothing! No, I'm joking. Thing is, a lot of people think I'm going to be hosting the award show, but I'm just going to be on there for a minute or two, just doing a skit and then walking off stage.
See, I've done live stuff, but only for my fans, never in front of other performers. I think it requires a lot more time and preparation. I'm trying to stay safe, go up on stage and do a skit or two, basically do what I'm known for.