Comedy has always been an integral part of the entertainment industry in both India and Pakistan. Although the nature of jokes and comedy have drastically changed over the past few decades, but the appeal and the enormous fan following of this genre is eternal. From decent, clean and sensitive comedy, both Indian and Pakistani comedy platforms have become more and more intense, impatient, and aggressive. One of the reasons for this transformation can be increasing political awareness among the youth and their desire to highlight the issues. This might also be the reason why many standup comedy routines of modern day are focused at political, social and cultural issues prevalent in the society. However, the delightful comedy of the evergreen comedians of both India and Pakistan still continues to entertain hundreds of thousands of audiences and is still as popular as it was decades ago. Let’s revisit some of the notable comedians of the subcontinent and take a short trip through some of their performances.
Gurpreet Singh Waraich, commonly known as Gurpreet Ghuggi is primarily an actor and now politician, but his strength and claim to fame is comedy. He began his career by theater performances in the early nineties. Since then he has been appearing in many television series and soap operas. He has his signature style of self belittling, but the stories are always humble and funny. The local traditional fact of Punjabi being a humorous language and Punjabis known for their witty conversations came in handy for Gurpreet Ghuggi in building his career. His latest blockbuster Carry on Jatta is still fresh in the minds of fans of Punjabi movies.
Amanullah Khan is the personification of Pakistan’s standup comedy theater. Comedy in the mainstream media of Pakistan has been a relatively newer development, but the theater performances have almost always been comedy related. He is an idol of the theater performers, and TV and film actors alike. Although this form of comedy has frequently come under fire for being offensive and obnoxious, but considering the majority of the target audiences, there seems to be no slowing down of this brand of comedy. Amanullah Khan has been keeping his performances quality oriented and because of that he has not only earned millions of fans but also the respect and praise of his fans and critics alike. His eccentric appearance and his complete comfort with his social background allow him to create jokes out of thin air that leaves his audiences in stitches. These days he is in a recurring performance on ‘Khabarzar’ on Aap News channel.
Sohail Ahmed is one of the most popular comedians of Pakistan, and is also known as Azizi, based on his signature recurring appearance on Hasb-e-Haal. He started his career from stage and theater, and his father – a police officer, was extremely critical of his choice of career. He has incredible talent for mimicry and voicing characters from politics, media industry as well as personalities from other nationalities. At first Sohail Ahmed made name for introducing improvised comedy during live theater performances, and to this date it is his spontaneity and ability to surprise his audiences with just the wittiest comment at just the right time. During his theater performances he embodies characters, but for his show Hasb-e-Haal, he prefers socio-political commentary. He has also written and recited a poem ‘Mera Sohna Pakistan’ denoting the social and political evils prevalent in Pakistan, and that has gained a following of its own.
The world has yet to see a better comedian than the legendary actor, host, impersonator, and stage artist. Moin Akhtar also had the titles of writer, singer, director, producer, and humorist. He popularized his own brand of humor that involved decency, humor, and comedy all at the same time, and never once had he used offensive language or needed to stoop low to make his listeners laugh. The trio of Moin Akhtar, Anwar Maqsood, and Bushra Ansari had a brand of its own and has transcended the generational boundaries for its fan following. In his career spanning four and a half decades, he has performed all over the globe with artists from India, Bangladesh and many other countries. A young, skinny, teenaged Moin Akhtar began his comedy career in 1966 with a stage performance held for PTV amidst constant heckling and insults from the audiences. He requests ten minutes be given to him to showcase his talent with the promise that if he is unable to entertain the audiences he will leave. That performance lasted 45 minutes. The talent, the confidence, the grace, and above all the content that Moin Aktar brought has, and continues to, remain matchless. It has been eight years since he has passed away, but his shows, humor, and legacy lives on.
Omar Sharif is one of those Pakistani comedians who made history for bringing Pakistani and Indian entertainment industry together even at times when the political forces of both countries were up in arms against each other. Although Omar Sharif made his brand with Pakistani Punjabi comedy, his humor was often a critique on the social issues prevalent in both Pakistan and India. He was also invited to host Indian film award shows and perform for Indian audiences. His comedy has a fan base of itself, with the public opinion divided on whether his means to highlight social issues are effective or offensive. However, the King of Comedy, as he came to be known, has never allowed any criticism in his way to make people laugh and leave a permanent mark on the stage of comedy in the sub-continent.
Kenny Sebastian is who you can call the newest brand of comedy in the rising industry of India. Equipped with all the internet slangs and aware of all the problems faced by the millennials he always takes the stage with enough ammunition to keep the crowd laughing. The gap between the thoughts and ideas of the previous generation and the youth of today is amusing to begin with, and Kenny knows just how much spice to add on top of it to make it hilarious. He tells stories from his own experiences and audiences relate and hung up on every word. Here is an excerpt from one of his performances. “My parents did what no middle class family has ever done in a restaurant. They ordered dessert.”
The Pakistani-American comedian came into light when he tackled racism head on the renowned Saturday Night Live. Kumail is one of the few celebrities who has not only been very vocal about his heritage but has been clearing out misconceptions among American people for Pakistan. He has never been offensive to any country or nationality, and yet he is able to perfectly portray the cultural differences and the ways of life of Pakistani Diaspora as compared to the American public and that is where all the laughter is stored. Kumail is a main cast member of Silicon Valley – an HBO’s Emmy Award nominated series, and is also renowned to voice the Prismo character on Emmy award winner series Adventure Time.
If you are even a little familiar with the Indian comedy scene, then this is one name you have to have heard. He is the Comedy Khan equivalent to the Bollywood Khans. Zakir Khan rose out of nowhere and rose to the top of the subcontinent’s comedy. He is a writer, presenter and actor as well. He gained popularity at first from Comedy Central’s India’s 3rd Best Standup Comedian competition. Zakir’s comedy touches right at the heart of the insecurities of the majority of the Indian and Pakistani youth and treats them a brilliantly humorous manner. Listening to his stand up performances, even someone not familiar with the Indian culture of stereotyping, gender bias, and discrimination on skin color will be able to understand exactly what is wrong with the society. Without offending a single member from the thousands of audiences, Zakir Khan masterfully emerges as a politico-social commentator with laughter ammunition packed in his jokes. His satirical performances have earned him respect, fame and love in a very short period of time.
Johnny Lever is a legend for Indian cinematic universe and an idol for everyone wishing to break into this field of entertainment media. In fact it would not be wrong to say that he was the first ever standup comedian to emerge from India. Johnny Lever made himself appear on the sky of comedy through his standup performances, however, his real flight to success happened when he entered Bollywood films. He has received thirteen Filmfare Awards nominations for Best Performance in a Comic Role and has bagged the award twice. Something that the world of comedy is fast losing is the ability to be humorous without being offensive. Johhny Lever was a master of the art of making his audiences laugh without offending a single one of them even among a crowd of thousands. To date he has worked in more than three hundred Bollywood movies and continues to remain a loved and adored personality by his colleagues and fans alike.
One of the finest actresses in the history of Pakistan’s television industry, Bushra Ansari is perhaps the first woman in the Pakistani media industry who entered the field of comedy. Like the first entry in our list, Bushra Ansari was also an excellent mimicry artist and singer. She could perform an entire play with a whole range of characters all by herself. She could do sounds, and even mimic the singing of artists as distinguished as Noor Jehan. She has been the recipient of numerous awards in her illustrious career, including the Presidential Pride of Performance Award Award. Her humor has always been clean, decent, and feminine to each syllable. She is still part of the Pakistan’s media industry, but her olden skits and theatrical performances continue to entertain audiences. One of her signature styles was political commentary even during the times of stringent censorship. Bushra Ansari continues to rule the hearts of millions, old and young alike.
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