Yasir Hussain's terrible Hum Awards joke is proof desi comedians need a reality check

Yasir Hussain's terrible Hum Awards joke is proof desi comedians need a reality check

The comic says he's sorry for making the joke, but this isn't the first time jokes at award shows have been offensive
Updated 01 May, 2017

The 5th annual Hum Awards held in Lahore this Saturday featured lots of high points — unfortunately, it also featured its share of lows.

And one of those low points came when comedian Yasir Hussain cracked a joke about child molestation.

After Ahsan Khan accepted the award for Best Actor In A Negative Role for his performance as villain in child sexual abuse drama Udaari, Hussain remarked: "Itna khoobsurat child molester, kaash mein bhi bacha hota" (what a beautiful child molester, if only I was also a child).

The reaction to his quip was swift as attendees and commentators took to social media to express their outrage. Some directed their outrage at the comedian himself, others were angrier still at the star-studded audience, from which the joke elicited a few laughs.

And some, like activist Jibran Nasir, pointed out the irony of making light of child abuse in the context of Udaari, which aims to shed light on the evil that is child abuse.

Yasir Hussain has since apologised for the comment, which he insists was unscripted. But the joke being unscripted perhaps only makes matters worse -- after all, isn't it in our unguarded, spontaneous moments that we reveal who we really are, and if that's the case has Yasir Hussain revealed himself to be a deviant who thinks sexual abuse is kind of funny?

I hope not, because Hussain -- along with other prominent names in the industry like Ahmed Ali Butt -- is often responsible for the humour that is beamed into households across Pakistan via award shows and films.

But even here precedent doesn't leave much room for hopefulness.

I was present at the Hum Awards on Saturday and Hussain's child molestation joke was just one of many cringe-worthy moments -- like the show's opening sequence where Hussain mimicked a Pathan fruitseller.

As Hussain made his way through the audience in the guise of this fruitseller he cracked a variety of off-colour jokes that hinged on the assumption that Pathan men like, well, men. It felt an awful lot like ethnic stereotyping with just a dash of homophobia and I wondered - just how long are desi humourists going to exploit Pakistan's mostly problematic interactions with race, sexuality and gender for laughs?

And I suppose I should add disability to the list because last year's Lux Style Awards were marred by dwarf jokes courtesy Ahmed Ali Butt.

These supremely unfunny jokes are the norm at award shows, on morning shows and on the street, and this isn't really surprising given that in Pakistan far worse has passed for humour even in the National Assembly, where politicians routinely make lewd remarks or belittle people with no consequence.

In this undemocratic landscape comedians tend to forget that successful humour really comes from holding up a mirror to the powerful, not from taking cheap shots at the disenfranchised.

Thankfully, as it happened in this case, keen-eyed observers on social media now won't let bad humour slide. As it happened in this most recent case of awful award show jokes, people demanded an apology from Hussain, and for their trouble, received it.

Yasir (not pictured) says his remark was meant as a compliment to Ahsan Khan (centre), who is seen here accepting the Best Actor In A Negative Role award at the Hum Awards
Yasir (not pictured) says his remark was meant as a compliment to Ahsan Khan (centre), who is seen here accepting the Best Actor In A Negative Role award at the Hum Awards

Still, when I spoke to Hussain to get his side of the story, I wasn't fully convinced he realised why his apology was necessary. "First of all, no one's talking about the first part of my segment which got a lot of laughs, why is the positive aspect of my performance being put aside?" asked Hussain. "Secondly, when you improvise, things come out of your mouth that may not be appropriate. What I said, I said in praise of Ahsan Khan, it had nothing to do with child molestation. I certainly didn't mean to encourage child molestation. But if this hurt people, then I have said sorry for it... After this the matter should be finished off, don't you think?"

"Honestly, after this incident I'm thinking of forgoing hosting shows altogether," he continued.

Read on: I don’t seem to be good enough for awards, says Yasir Hussain

I'm willing to accept that Yasir Hussain didn't intend to make light of child sexual abuse. He is a talented performer and even the best of us make mistakes.

But at the very minimum this incident needs to serve as a lesson that sometimes, an unequivocal apology is the best response to valid criticism, and that if a comedian makes an honest mistake they should set their entitlement aside to admit to it, not just... give up.

And at most?

At most we need to drastically change our ways. The creative community that incubates and supports comedic talent needs to be better at vetting scripts and demanding higher standards from comedians. The entertainment industry exists in its own bubble with little criticism and few conflicting opinions filtering through to its biggest stars, which makes it easier for bad ideas to go unnoticed. Including diverse perspectives and fresh talent is a good antidote to this, one that this year's Lux Style Awards benefited from.

Television networks and sponsors must draw the line at cheap shots and racist or classist humour.

An audience has responsibilities too, and as spectators we need to stop laughing at jokes that appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Whether it's dispatched at an award show or a political rally, humour is a terribly powerful tool. It ought to be used thoughtfully.


El Cid May 01, 2017 11:12am
Nothing to apologize for. Jokes have to be crude and blatant to nail the truth. That is why they can get away with their cruel and bad taste by being called and taken as jokes. Humor can be deadly. This one was telling. This was domestic. Note how a number of Pakistanis have been winning awards, and their 15 minutes of fame, by washing domestic dirty linen at international platforms.
Thoroughthinker May 01, 2017 11:18am
Was that show aired live? Normally, such shows are properly edited for removing all objectionable contents.
Khan May 01, 2017 11:19am
Very Well written article , Addressing all the aspects of low level of comedy associated with today's so called comedians . To me the comedy is an art , it needs natural talent , good intellect, education , general knowledge and good script . Today'c comedian are just trying to find short cuts without going into hard work. Sad to see such comedians with their brainless comedy are thriving in today's media . while we miss great comedians of the recent past .
Ardeshir May 01, 2017 11:26am
The purpose of humour is to offend and we people are too thin-skinned for it.
Hamza Sadruddin May 01, 2017 11:28am
It is nice that this has been highlighted, so that we can reflect in positive manner who we are. We should choose our words wisely on such forums.
K SHESHU BABU May 01, 2017 11:37am
The ' tragedy' of comic shows is reflected in the awards ceremony. The abusive tone is highly deplorable
Faisal muhammad Baloch May 01, 2017 11:46am
The joke did not go well, the individual realised his mistake, code of conduct should be drawn to avoid these incidents in the future but let's not drag this more than required. Because the article is giving that sense.
Tariq May 01, 2017 11:53am
The very reason is that there is mature people who runs the affairs in media channels. People like mogen Akhtar or Anwar masood made standards yet our new media people ignore it and that is why these ugly things happening in such mega events.
Hassan May 01, 2017 12:03pm
I call it cheap
Sameer May 01, 2017 12:10pm
How people like Yasir become movie actors and iconic...I will never know.
Asim May 01, 2017 12:14pm
Freedom of speech. Why don't you guys enjoy it? Just imagine this joke and many other 'low' class jokes and remarks reach out to our homes where we are sitting with our children watching a 'style show' in 'prime time'.
Syed May 01, 2017 12:15pm
Insensitive and ignorant person,
Shah May 01, 2017 12:22pm
Yes, wise decision that he intends to stop going to shows. I am surprised he had the gall to defend his comments by saying that no one praised his good performance before his slip of tongue. Some people are also defending his humor; it is no joke talking about child molestation.
SK May 01, 2017 12:31pm
He's a lost cause!Still doesn't understand why he had to apologize
Alex May 01, 2017 12:44pm
@Thoroughthinker The show is not aired live. It is videos from mobile phones which attendees have made. The show is yet to be aired on TV
LOVE YOUR COUNTRY May 01, 2017 12:59pm
Shows the cheapness to which greed for fame can pull someone down.
Muhammad Ahmed May 01, 2017 02:23pm
It is good to see that so many people care about child molestation. However, this crude joke was a joke at the end of the day. Overblown reaction to comedy against anything displays our immaturity. We do not have free speech in our country. The limited free speech we do have, cannot be choked in the name of political correctness. I am disappointed that author of this article and Jibran Nasir want to police comedy using social media. I think their talents and time will be better suited to focus on Kasur tragedy.
zulu May 01, 2017 02:25pm
stereotype those who justifying this , wont tolerate any thing about theirs mums and dads in pakistan. you wont go that much far so this this a serous issue and dont make fun of it shame on you
Syed irfan ali May 01, 2017 02:57pm
Agree with the writer totally. Education and more quality education is the only answer to these type of issues.
itrat khaliq May 01, 2017 02:59pm
@Ardeshir No Sir, I beg to differ. It's purpose is to surprise and after the uncertainty , laughter comes as an acknowledgement from brain that now it is in harmony of that humor.
irfan uk May 01, 2017 03:11pm
I like a laugh and a joke but jokes should not be below the belt even though it sometimes can take the fun out of the joke but our comedians are very talented and can do much better.
Ranjit May 01, 2017 03:17pm
@Ardeshir basically agree with you but SOME topics have to be off limit
Absano May 01, 2017 04:03pm
Seems like the guy has no idea why this joke was offensive. Child molestation leaves life long impact on even those kids who go through lighter molestation as compared to that shown in Udaari. Not just the comedian, many common people think it is a thing happening so far away they dont need to pay attention to it. Even though child abuse is happening all around us.
S. A.M. May 01, 2017 04:06pm
I think just tried to highlight that paedophiles come in very elegant and smart ways to lure children and to cause them harm. what he said could be thoughts of a child to be friends with their biggest enemy. it puts burden parents to face this harsh truth and be ware of such best looking people. Thanks yasir. that was good for thought.
Saeeds May 01, 2017 06:53pm
Many distasteful things comes people mind and that's why we need filter. But when professional person addressing millions should be very tactful and if he can't control his thought than he should move to some local stage shows. But his jokes appreciate by people than it society and culture problem
Ejaz May 01, 2017 06:56pm
A comedian always twists facts and truths to bring down the element of humor. No one should expect any serious message from him or her. If the case in point is that much serious and out-of-the-way matter, then we should be generous enough to accept the apology from the mistaken person. Lastly, any one should not play politics over such accepted mistake to give a rise to his/her repu-graph.
ajaya K Dutt May 01, 2017 07:43pm
Faisal May 01, 2017 08:39pm
@El Cid Shame on these people for highlighting these issues that have been part of our land for generations.
a May 01, 2017 08:48pm
@EL CID, well said and this sums up.
isha May 01, 2017 09:08pm
the inappropriate words by Yasir Hussain shows the dire need to educate everyone in the country on such issues
really? May 01, 2017 09:35pm
@Saeeds "Many distasteful things comes people mind and that's why we need filter. But when professional person addressing millions should be very tactful and if he can't control his thought than he should move to some local stage shows" He was not addressing millions since there was no simulcast on TV. He WAS addressing a local show.
Zaidi May 02, 2017 12:38am
I guess everyone is upset because he does not take child molestation seriously? No one but this way would have uttered such a joke.
Khurshid May 02, 2017 12:46am
@El Cid You miss the point totally. This is not humor - period. Child abuse has devastating consequences for victims - often resulting in lifelong trauma and loss of dignity and sense of worth. The "joke" trivialized a menace that lurks in the underbelly of our society, and even condoned and glorified it - this is crassly inhuman and insensitive - if humor has to be "deadly", as you put it, it should have targeted the abuser, not the victim. However, we also don't need to demonize the person who made this "joke" - he is just a symptom of how our society thinks, and just spoke thoughtlessly. The real concern is how deeply internalized this kind of thinking is.
Asifa May 02, 2017 12:52am
Muskrarati morning with faisal qureshi the well mature actor and his other fellows contantly makes fun of lead singer s darker skin tone "kashif" not only that.... they make fun of his poverty or being from middle class that he cant have ipad or anything expensive at them its comedy..its ridiculous the level of immaturity and racism our so called well mannered artist portrait
Maliha May 02, 2017 01:25am
@Thoroughthinker nope its not aired yet and this will be removed when it's aired butall of the media invited heard it so spread it across social media.
ASB May 02, 2017 01:37am
Yasir answered that it was not part of the script and he does not mean that heart anyone, so we should stop making any more objection to him. it means he knows what is right rather to ignore the things by people.
Ajaya Dutt May 02, 2017 01:58am
It is shocking and disgusting that many commentators do not find these jokes objectionable.
Ali Vazir May 02, 2017 02:12am
Why are we so stubborn in rendering unconditional apology? Apology actually takes away one's own tensions and depressions, rather than to please others. Need to grow up.
Mango man May 02, 2017 03:02am
@El Cid Things which are wrong should be wrong. They cannot be made right in a "joke".
Annie May 02, 2017 04:34am
I'm somewhat in touch with entertainment news, not too much, but Yasir Hussain is someone who I feel should have long been relegated to the industry's dustbin. Why is he still around?
MAK May 02, 2017 07:39am
Goes to show many of our 'comedians' are uncouth street crackers 'bhands'
Hammad May 02, 2017 07:56am
Cheap Pakistani actors. All of them
Yawar May 02, 2017 08:25am
It is amazing how quickly we voice our disgust towards a crude joke referencing a drama on child molestation but keep quiet about the large numbers of street and other children molested and victimized by adults on a daily basis in Pakistan.
Ally Adnan May 02, 2017 09:38am
Yasir Hussain chose to make jokes about child abuse, rape and molestation at the HUM TV Awards. His behavior was reprehensible, repulsive, revolting, offensive, distasteful, repugnant and shameful. He is an excitable young kid with no talent and more success than he can handle. Moreover, his behavior suggests that he has no education, class or intelligence and was not raised properly. It is, therefore, no surprise that he behaved in a criminally careless and callous manner. This is what happens when people without class, decency, dignity, a good upbringing, and education are given the mic. They do not have any talent and, in their desperate bids to be funny, they cross all limits and end up being offensive. His subsequent explanation and apology was equally offensive. Lacking sincerity, seriousness and integrity, it was a continuation of his atrocious comments.
Arshad Khan May 02, 2017 11:46am
Thank you for pointing out a very important and crucial issue. Mostly in our society we make some laugh at the cost of others without realising its sub conscience impact on the overall society, culture and peoples' behaviour. The civilised world has come a long way and some of the words we frequently use to target/judge certain ethnicities/sects of the society in our jokes are criminal. Time to raise awareness and stop such ignorant acts.
Nouman May 02, 2017 11:50am
Well well indeed the humor was terrible, but hold on the subject itself was a bit too bold and shameful to be depicted in a family-entertaining drama. We are getting shameless in the same of modernism
Sayed May 02, 2017 01:51pm
Definetly in public appearance we should take care but unfortunately we as public are critisizing one person which is not wrong but how come our media, reporters, public and elected members forgot KASUR case more than 100 victims witnessed themselves which was clear evidence of this crime but as of today not a single report revealed about culprits because of only one reason we all know. In UDARI We as society blame ourselves first as we rising on these issue only for time being.
Syed Zauq ul arifeen May 02, 2017 04:41pm
Very well written article.I think to be a good comedian apart from intellect, good script observation is very necessary. I think its the most difficult genre to be done well.No short cuts
Moth May 02, 2017 08:08pm
Happened because of not living in an environment that explicitly teaches that child moleststion is bad and why it is bad. An apology from Yasir from deep from his heart may close this social blunder.
Ali May 03, 2017 11:07am
People are over reacting on his joke. specially team Udaari.
Henna May 04, 2017 12:57am
@El Cid The last bit of your comment that's so... Ummm thought provoking was the phrase I was looking for...