Saad Haroon: saying things Pakistanis do not usually say
There will undoubtedly be some awkward moments. Current affairs may be given a mention. And, perhaps, a little bit of slapstick comedy will be on the menu as well.
Such are the ingredients for an evening with the Pakistani comedian, writer, director and producer Saad Haroon, who will be performing in Dubai at Ductac's Kilichand Theatre in the Mall of the Emirates on Thursday.
The event has been organised by the Dubai-based comedy company Spotted Hyenas. Its founders, Salman Qureshi and Stephanie Inglesfield, will also be performing, alongside Brent Jenkins, another local comedian.
Just hours after he touched down in Dubai, Haroon, who is credited with creating the first improvisational comedy troupe, Blackfish, in his home country, had a message for anybody interested in attending the show: "Prepare to see a Pakistani saying things that Pakistanis don't usually say."
Having previously performed in the UAE during festivals and as a solo artist, Haroon said the local comedy scene had picked up noticeably over the past five years.
"There are more teachers here now, which is great. Before, for example, you would see mostly British shows for largely British audiences, but now there has been a big turn," said Haroon. "Comedy groups such as The Axis of Evil, by performing here, have helped create more opportunities to break down barriers so people can laugh at themselves and challenge the stereotypes."
Breaking stereotypes is one thing Haroon admits he loves to do during his shows.
"I tweak it so it's more international. Using comedy is also a way to reflect. I talk about social issues, women, marriage and I also share personal stories," he said.
Haroon introduced Pakistan's first English-language television comedy show, focused on political and social satire and titled Real News. He has travelled the world and is due to tour the United States this year, having recently completed a stand-up comedy and improvisational tour of 16 Pakistani universities. However, he admits the situation is not always easy.
"Many times, politics gets in the way. We've had an experience when we were doing a show and we heard a blast go off in the distance," said Haroon.
It was just after September 11, 2001, when the general mood around the globe was relatively gloomy, that Haroon felt he wanted to add a little humour to lighten up the atmosphere.
"I had just finished college then and after 9/11 the world just changed, so the idea was to help make people laugh and have fun again because that's my core belief. If the audience goes home happy, then I feel like I did my little bit for humanity," he said.
Haroon has also performed in the past with his fellow Pakistani Qureshi, who says he looks up to Haroon. "The idea is to bring Haroon and others like him from around the region more frequently. Comedy in the UAE is blossoming but it's obviously in the beginning stages. The potential is great because there's plenty of talent," he said.
Having been in Dubai since 1999, Qureshi traded a full-time job in the corporate world for comedy almost three years ago. He co-founded Spotted Hyenas about a year ago.
"I guess I was going through an early midlife crisis," he said. "I came across Dubomedy [the comedy and urban arts hub in Dubai] and they encouraged me to pursue comedy. The thing is, once you get a laugh from the audience, that's it, you're hooked."
After watching one of Haroon's performances in 2003, Qureshi felt there should be more Pakistani comedians.
"Haroon is one of the pioneers. What's fantastic about Pakistan is there are so many more shows, especially in English. Haroon inspired us," said Qureshi. "His show next week is about letting people know there are many talents. However, it's very expensive to put on such shows, so funding for comedy shows is much needed."
Even though Haroon has been in comedy for the past 10 years, he still humbly describes himself as "new" to the scene.
"There are many other great comedians that have been doing this for 20, 30 years. What was most challenging for me at the beginning was there was no market in Pakistan, so convincing people we needed comedy was half the work," he said. "Humans by nature want to laugh. I'm glad there are more Pakistani comedians and it will continue - if I played a role in that, then I am very happy."
And the show this coming Thursday evening? "I would describe my comedy as fast, with a mixture of topical, then awkward, then some regular slapstick!" he said.
ŸTickets are available at the Ductac Box Office. For more information, visit www.spotted-hyenas.com