KARACHI: “We need to laugh more,” the creator and producer of the stand-up comedy tells me.
It is an unusual setting for an interview with a man heading a small group with a big vision. It takes place at the back of a cafe, sitting on two squat wooden tables, yelling above the screeching of young men and women singing karaoke.
The lights are so dim that at certain parts of the interview, Azfar Ali aims my phone torch at my notebook as I scribble down his answers. The six-man troupe called Aisa Karo Gay to Kaun Aaye Ga? started off less than a year ago. “It’s improvised comedy,” says the creator of show. “But it is the first time it’s being done in Urdu.” Azfar attended a film festival at SZABIST, where he found Zeeshan Haider’s class performing impromptus.
He loved it so much that he decided to make it his next mission: create a troupe of improvised comedians who would bring the kind of change to society that he desires. “A single group like Black Fish doesn’t make culture, we want more people joining the business,” aruges coach and moderator Zeeshan. The group is aiming to make standup comedy shows a part of Pakistani society so that along with pop songs and concerts, people can develop a taste for theatre and drama.
“It’s sort of an Urdu adaptation of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ with different segments and impromptu acting,” explains Azfar. “Pakistani society is so afraid of new things,” he explains as he opens the show to 100 guests packed into the small Base Rock Cafe. “But we aren’t afraid of anything.” The group has six young actors: Saqib Sumeel, Afraz Rasul, Minhaj Askari, Imran Ahmed, Rameez Siddiqui and Ali Gul, most of who are National Academy of Performing Arts graduates.
Zeeshan is the coach who acts in the show every now and then as a ‘twelfth man’ while Azfar is the brains behind the project. They originally started off with 12 people but soon brought it down to six, keeping the best. “I’m the best of them all though,” jokes Ali Gul. At least I think he is joking; it’s hard to tell because they seem to live and breathe comedy.
“It requires a lot of commitment, especially in the beginning when we started out and there was no money,” he says, adding that even now they don’t earn much but it’s just a “really fun job”. “Our practice sessions are so much fun, we’re just laughing all the time,” he says. Ali is in his last year of a Bachelors degree in Media sciences at SZABIST. It’s hard to manage studies and work together, he says, but it’s worth all the effort to get people to laugh.
“In a country where it’s all about bombs and deaths, we need to get people laughing more.” He gives a brief introduction of his co-workers. Saqib is the ‘struggling, independent artist type’. Imran is the ‘Matric fail - No, I’m just joking!’.
Rameez is the ‘funny guy who stands at street corners cracking wise-ass comments’. Minhaj is the NAPA RJ and Afraz the ‘Jim Carrey, physical humour expert’. The show seems to win the crowd enough times to qualify as a good act.
Opening game ‘Channels’ has each of the six actors representing one television channel with moderator Zeeshan calling out words to set a scene. Dogs seem to be the most popular theme from landlord pets to the landlord himself. In ‘Sound Effects’ the moderator charts out a situation for two or three actors, with one sitting in the background to keep making different sounds as cues.
Here too, dogs manage to make it, as well as a ‘security guard’ frisked a flatulent, wet ‘passenger’ whose wife’s waist is a size smaller than an elephant’s. The actor at the back sounds a telephone ring and Ali Gul promptly finds an invisible one in the passenger’s invisible bag. “Hello?” he says. The sound guy barks in return. Ali hands the phone to the passenger: “Aap ki biwi ka phone!”