The new wave of improvisational comedy

Stand-up comedians and improv troupes give the gist of how the concept of jest has evolved in Pakistan.

Hasan Ansari October 16, 2014


If you haven’t noticed the emergence of comedians and improv troupes in Karachi, then the joke’s on you. In recent times, groups such as ‘LOL Waalay’ and ‘The Platoon’ have come to the fore and gradually riveted comedy enthusiasts. Although their mass appeal cannot be at par with that of legends like Moin Akhtar, Sikander Sanam and Umer Sharif, they have managed to create their own niche. The Express Tribune explores the evolution of stand-up comedians and improv groups to get the gist of how the concept of jest has evolved in Pakistan.

“Blackfish was the one that started it all,” says Ali Gul Pir, who rose to fame with his satirical rap song Waderai Ka Beta. “They were the first improv troupe to come out of Pakistan and the rest of us are part of that trickledown effect,” adds Pir, who has been performing improv with Saad Haroon’s ‘The Agency’ and Azfar Ali’s ‘Aisa Karoge Tou Kon Ayega’.

Akbar Chaudry of the fairly new troupe LOL Waalay, feels that the revival of improv in Pakistan was long overdue and people have now opened up more to the idea of watching live performances. “I feel that the commercial comedy scene took a hit right after brilliant television shows, such as Fifty Fifty and Alif Noon, were aired,” he comments. Interestingly, he also attributes the ascent of this form of creative expression to the ban on YouTube.

What sets this new wave stage comedy apart is the fact that unlike preceding acts, these artistes have chosen to perform their routines in English. Stand-up comedy and improv are western techniques, so comedians prefer that their content is in English,” states Pir. “It also depends on the comfort level of the comedian. I personally prefer doing my shows in Urdu as I feel more comfortable [with the language] and it helps me let loose,” he adds.

Hassaan Bin Shaheen, director of improv troupe ‘The Platoon’, also chooses Urdu as the prime medium of expression. “Stand-up comedy is usually performed in English, but comedians in Pakistan choose to not do it in English. If it happens, it happens. Comedians usually perform in the language that they are more comfortable with, which is mostly Urdu,” he says.

This new set of comedians and groups are more experimental, with them constantly exploring new ideas and mediums to project themselves. “Unlike other groups, ‘The Platoon’ manages to garner less laughs per minute, but what we focus more on is storytelling and character building. Instead of ‘telling’ jokes, we ‘do’ jokes,” Shaheen shares.

Chaudry holds that the content of local television these days lacks originality and has ceased to develop. So, audiences have turned to stand-up and improv comedy as an alternate and viable source of entertainment. He feels that people may even prefer a comedy show by a performer of good standing over going to a movie theatre. “The idea of comedy being relegated to vulgarity in stage shows has also changed. Audiences can attend shows with their families with the assurance that the content will be agreeable across the table,” he adds.

Despite having already made a mark, these comedians wish to broaden their horizons. Shaheen says that in order for comedy to grow in Pakistan, people should go abroad and take improv courses at institutes, such as The Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings in the United States. He also suggests the initiation of an improv community, which would encourage other people to venture into this field.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2014.

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Hassaan Bin Shaheen | 7 years ago | Reply

Great article. Except what I meant was that there is no pre-decided notion of a particular language, we don't choose Urdu or English, if it happens in either of the language, it just happens.

But so great to see that the mainstream media is picking up on the Improv scene.

Skavi | 7 years ago | Reply

If you really want to know and learn what improv. comedy is, you should visit Second City in Chicago or Toronto.

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