Saad Haroon – The Pakistani Beam of Laughter
Creator of the first ever Pakistani improvisational comedy troupe “Blackfish”, Saad Haroon is an internationally acclaimed Pakistani comedian, actor and writer. He was voted the second funniest person in the Laugh Factory’s Funniest Person in the World competition. However, even achieving extreme levels of success has not gone to his head. He is a humble and down to earth person, and makes utmost effort to give opportunities to aspiring writers and comedians.
Saad Haroon was born in Karachi, but moved to Hong Kong when he was young and mostly grew up there. He moved back to Karachi, where he did his O’ levels and A’ levels. Then went off to college, at the University of Massachusetts in the United States. Despite spending most of his life in different countries, he still calls himself ‘pretty much a Pakistani boy.’ After graduating from college, Saad returned to Karachi where he helped his father with his textile business for some time. Hailing from a business family, the ‘beta to kaam karay ga’ mindset generally prevailed among his family members too.
‘When I was in my chaddis, I would go to the factory with my father, and he would tell me about the machines and say that this was what I was going to do with my life. I never questioned it until one day. Wait a second, maybe I want to do something else with my life.’
It was not long before Saad found his ultimate passion in life. His family was in shock when they heard about his decision. Their first response was, ‘beta to gaya!’ It was not something easy for them to accept. But things gradually became better. Driven by the wish to do something that would make him happy, Saad started ‘Blackfish’, an improvisational comedy troupe that did shows based on audience suggestions. In those days, SMS was the main social media, and that is how Blackfish’s popularity spread. People liked it so much that one show after another had to be done.
The venue of their first show turned out to be so jam packed that they had to promise another show next Sunday. However, the second show turned out to be houseful too. Since then, it has been three years and Blackfish has been doing weekly shows. They started off with a basement in Zamzama as their venue, but that was ultimately replaced by a bigger auditorium. After doing improvisational comedy for a while, Saad decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy which is somewhat more original and personal format.
‘It was great, so I started going around and then people approached me to do a TV show. Then I started to travel more, and kept performing more and more both here and abroad.’
Since Saad had become really well established in Pakistan, he started to push himself so that he would have slightly greater influence abroad as well. For the past two three years, he has been doing great shows in the United States as well. His performances now go more with the flow.
‘My journey so far has been like snakes and ladders. I could not plan this even if I tried.’
Saad’s journey has not always been filled with laughter. He too has his share of setbacks in life. According to him, the biggest setback in life is not being certain about what is going to come next. But what matters is finding your way through the unknown, traversing through it. Sometimes, a person just wants to sit back, relax, and have a predictable nine to five job. The truth remains that everybody’s job is tough in some ways and easy in some. Everybody has to face difficulties.
Saad thinks that breaking typical Pakistani stereotypes is a big part of his job. If people don’t want to hear about something, that is different. It is not like you can’t talk to people at all. The most important thing is to find something that attracts people, something that interest them. Saad believes that the same thing can seldom be funny for both an American and a Pakistani.
‘I can never stop being Pakistani. I don’t want to NOT-be-Pakistani.’
He has been doing shows in Lahore for almost ten years now. According to Saad, Karachi and Lahore are slightly culturally different in the sense that not all the jokes get the same amount of laughs in both cities. But the acceptance level is generally similar in both cities.
‘Lahori audiences are fantastic! They are always really into it! They like being a part of the performance, and they absolutely love feeling like they are the stars of the show too.’
Talking about stereotypes, Saad pointed out rightly that there are too many stereotypes about relationships in Pakistan. Relationships and family are mostly dealt with in a very ‘rona dhona’ sort of way in Pakistani drama. You can only really talk about relationships in a very limited context in Pakistan, and that should not be the case. There are so many different ways two people can fall in love, but media has made even something as diverse as falling in love a monotonous procedure.
Pakistan’s culture is so beautiful. The media should focus on that, or maybe a bit of politics. Instead they mostly focus on personal lives, on marriages and topics with a relatively limited horizon. People do love jokes about political figures, about marriages etc. but that needs to done along with other, more important things. Comedy needs to be diverse. People’s acceptance of jokes and comedy should be diverse enough to incorporate various topics.
‘Don’t let any single political person define your lives. Let society define it. If our society, our cultural base is not strong, everything will crumble.’
It is sad to note that there are so few comedians in Pakistan. Happiness is a right of every single human being, and comedy is an awesome way of bringing a smile to somebody’s face. However, the fact remains that living in Pakistani society is not an easy job. We have so many problems, which leave us cranky and irritated. Doing comedy professionally is not an easy job either. It requires hours in front of the computer, tons of pondering and learning, but it is definitely worth it. Hearing people laugh at your jokes is definitely worth all the effort.
Saad was actually surprised at the huge amount of love he got from Pakistani audiences. He thinks that we are often so wrapped up in our own troubles that we forget how much love we have got to give to others. We need to lighten up. We sometimes need to let go of our troubles and laugh heartily at a joke. We will be surprised at the amount of warmth a tiny joke can spread in our hearts.
Interview by Hammad Anwar | Written by Fatima Arif