Like any other living and breathing human being, myself has been guilty to have assumed that a comedian is someone who is always cracking jokes, making people laugh and keeps oneself amused, incessantly. Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long enough to dump this assumption after I met the unabashed stand-up comedian cum the Khalli Karao guy, Junaid Akram, who declares it’s all an act. Aren’t you funny in person, I ask? “I can be (funny), but when people meet me what they see is an act, not me entirely but somehow, they assume that this is exactly like I talk or behave all the time. People are surprised to see me like this (serious).” Junaid shared an instance where he met a girl who asked him why he wasn’t laughing, and he responded saying, “Funny people don’t laugh, they make people laugh. I’m not on stage, I’m not on camera, so in real life, I’m just like any other person.”
What brought him into comedy, was my instant enquiry. “There’s always this funny guy in a classroom, and I was the one among my friends. I loved watching comedy. During the late 90s, while in school, I loved watching American comedies and Hollywood, and really liked it but Pakistani TV or cinema had nothing like that. I really had this urge (back then) to grow up and make a very funny movie, even though it was just a dream,” says Junaid while sharing the reason that led him towards the art of making people laugh, “During the late 2000s, there was terrorism, and the country was portrayed in a very negative image all around the world, that is when I thought of doing comedy in English and somehow, I ended up being on stage on a western forum to deliver a message (to the world) that we also have a sense of humour and are not all about terrorism.”
Junaid’s first ever stand-up gig was at The Second Floor in 2010, where he signed up for an open mic, wrote about eight to 10 minutes of material, which went well, eventually boosting his confidence. He shares the memories of his time back then. “I was someone who could not talk to people; I was very shy, an introvert and kept things to myself. So going on stage in front of people was something beyond I could have ever thought,” he says of the time when he first performed for a live audience, adding, “But there comes a point in life where you stop worrying about what people think and I thought what’s the worst that could happen? They might not like me, they don’t know me, so I did it and it went really well. I kept doing shows and one thing led to another.”
According to Junaid, his friend convinced him to grow his audience by asking him to make videos and posting them online. “We came up with an idea of a video wherein I played a girl, wore a dupatta and wig, and talked about how girls in Pakistan behave. Even though it was a bit sexist but funny at the same time”, he recollects. “We shot it with a nokia phone and didn’t have any technical command on things. I uploaded it and slept, thinking it might get 2,000-3,000 hits. Next morning, I woke up to 60,000 views and popular celebrities were sharing my video which was very encouraging for me”, he says while claiming he was the first person who wore a dupatta, making it a trend to be followed by many others till date.
Junaid has had his fair share of experiences as far as life is concerned. He hails from a middle class family in Karachi and has made his supportive family proud of his job. “I come from a very rough neighbourhood in Ranchor Line and lived all my life there. Now, I have shifted somewhere else. Sadly, we have this problem of classism in our country, so you’re not respected for who you are, instead, for what you have and where you live”, he says while simultaneously talking about his first performance as a stand-up comedian. “It was very overwhelming. I was very nervous because I had never done something like that before but it went well enough to give me an ego boost. Also (now), it feels so empowering that you are saying certain words on mic that leave the entire audience laughing,” Junaid quips.
He is not someone to follow popular opinion, in fact, he likes challenging it. “In Pakistan, it is very easy to get famous, all you have to do is show your patriotism and religiosity, but I like challenging (such opinions),” he indulges while discussing how everybody is misusing freedom of speech. “We’re too extremist and want our opinion out there. I believe not everyone should get (access to) internet; just like everyone should not drive a truck because we’re not equipped, similarly, everyone should not have a voice”, believes Junaid.
His work, be it stand-up comedy or his viral videos on social media platforms, are more focused on social issues and evils amongst the society. Junaid is all for equal rights and is not someone to tolerate hypocrisy. “A lot of people say that I always talk negative about Pakistan, there are positives too, but we need to work on them. If you settle for less, then less is what you get. I have evolved as an artist and always believe that there is no humour without education. I have always followed people who spoke about equal rights like George Carlin,” he says while stressing on the need to change perspective through this art.
Following one of his most viral videos where he spoke against the mindset that killed Qandeel Baloch, Junaid was approached by BBC to share his thoughts. How he justified his thoughts while representing the entire nation, was something I was intrigued to ask. “I personally believe in live and letting live. If I don’t like someone or something they do, I have a choice not to watch or follow that person. Just because you don’t approve of someone, you say he or she should die, that’s wrong. This is extremism, we need to learn and master the art of giving people space and letting them live”, deems Junaid, saying that he has always received backlash from people while supporting women.
The witty man draws inspiration from local comedians like Majid Jehangir, Umer Sharif as well as Moin Akhtar, while the western shade in his humour is influenced by internationally-acclaimed comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and George Carlin. “Comedy should be meaningful. It should have some sort of substance and message, because humour develops from sadness. There is no joke in the world the premise of which is not constructed around sadness. It is either a sexist or racist or pain-inflicted joke (that makes people laugh).”
The stand-up comedian might soon venture into the world of television but chooses to keep it a secret, claiming it to be a different experience altogether. While advising those who want to explore comedy professionally, he said, “It takes a lot of hard work. I never stopped and that is the key. Keep trying, keep practicing, there will be days when people won’t laugh but that shouldn’t stop your pursuits. It took me a lot of time to give up my stable job in Dubai and come back to Karachi. I gave up all of that because I finally had the confidence of not doing a job since I always hated a 9-to-5 job,” says the guy who finds his fans in people from all tax brackets.
Being a social media celebrity, Junaid often receives constructive feedback, however, being criticised for the sake of it is not what he appreciates. “If 1000 people are leaving good comments and there is one bad comment, it will stay with me because I am only working for the public’s good. I am a bullet-proof beygairat, I tolerate and don’t care what people think (about my views). A lot of people write to me, saying how I should not have said something that I did and give tips on improving. But if you are being negative just for the sake of it, then it’s uncalled for. I always appreciate if people have something meaningful to say,” Junaid asserts blatantly as he signs off. •
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