Pakistani comedians to perform with student improv groups
Highly successful comedians Danish Ali and Ali Gul Pir will bring their brand of political humor to the College in collaboration with comedy groups Casual Thursday, Improv to the People and Sit-Down Tragedy.
The show, titled "Very Live: Stand Up and Improv Our Country," will consist of improvisational and stand-up comedy about both life and politics in Pakistan and elections in the United States, using comedy to compare the two systems, according to Ali.
"It'll be interesting to see if Americans will laugh at what we think is funny about the U.S. elections," Ali said.
Ali has been performing comedy for about seven years after leaving his career as a doctor to fight an "uphill battle" to pursue his passion, he said. Ali now has his own show, "The Real Show with Danish Ali," which is highly successful.
Gul Pir is a filmmaker who achieved huge comedic success in Pakistan after releasing a funny YouTube video based on the feudal system in Pakistan. The video currently has 4 million views, an extremely high number for a country in which internet use is uncommon.
"It just became something it penetrated the pop culture," Gul Pir said. "It wasn't just a song now. People were relating to it, and it just became something big."
Gul Pir's primary focus is still internet comedy, but he also performs live shows and consults with advertising agencies for digital campaigns, he said.
Ali and Gul Pir said that performing in the United States has given them an opportunity to learn more about American people beyond the stereotypes that exist in Pakistan.
"It's a very privileged, very unique way to learn about Americans, to see what you guys are laughing at," Ali said. "You get to see people in a very different way."
Meeting and interacting with Americans over the course of their time here has positively impacted the comedians' perception of the country, which is often portrayed in a negative light in Pakistan.
"When I got here, it really smashed a lot of my perceptions," Ali said. "I think Americans are hands-down the nicest group of people I've ever met."
Ali said that performing in the United States allows the comedians to more freely express their ideas than they could in Pakistan.
"We've been censored many times on the show," Ali said. "A lot of our videos have already been censored by political groups. It's fun to come to the USA and just say what you want, and people clap for it."
Gul Pir said that his style of comedy revolves around portraying and drawing attention to the social issues that he identifies as important.
"It's observational comedy, definitely," Gul Pir said. "I think it would be very socially relevant because I joke about things that I see. If I see something that is happening in society, a lot of people don't find it funny and don't joke about it, but that's what I joke about."
Ali said he hopes the audience will be moved by the show in the same way that he was by being in the United States, and the show can be an opportunity to change the preconceived notions Americans may have about people and life in Pakistan.
Gul Pir said that the most exciting aspect of the show comes from meeting and interacting with people before and after the performance itself.
"It's about us meeting these people and sharing our perspective and getting to know what they think," Gul Pir said. "I think that'll have the bigger impact, the whole journey and not just the individual shows."
Gul Pir and Ali also said they are excited to collaborate with Casual Thursday, Improv to the People and Sit-Down Tragedy during the show. On Tuesday, the comedians met with the three groups to teach an improvisational work shop and prepare for tonight's show.
Casual Thursday president Zach Weed '13 said that Tuesday's workshop was an effective way to practice comedy and learn from the other groups.
"They were very open to what we wanted to do, they were very curious about the sorts of comedy that we like to put on, and it was very collaborative," he said. "We talked about some of the games we like to play, they showed us some of the things they like to do and we worked on it all together."
Weed said he is looking forward to the opportunity to work with other groups during tonight's show.
"It's so exciting to be able to do comedy with other groups and with people that have comedy backgrounds different from your own," he said.
Although Casual Thursday does not usually focus its improvisational performances on political topics, Weed said that they will do so on Wednesday by getting political suggestions from the audience for their performances.
"Improv is very spontaneous," he said. "It can go in any direction, but we are going to give it a political flavor."
Improv to the People co-director Xavier Curry '14 said that the opportunity to perform in the show is particularly exciting for his group because they are so new and do not do live performances often.
Curry said that the political focus of the show reflects the fact that Ali and Gul Pir have found a comedic way to reflect upon issues that they consider highly important.
"Comedy is their medium," he said. "If that is what they can use to perhaps get someone to see something a different way or just make people aware of issues that they believe are important, I think that's a great method to do that."
Curry said that working with other comedy groups during the show will be a good opportunity to support one another and build relationships.
"I feel like it shows how much those groups support each other, and I think that that's all really important since we have the same craft," he said. "People will see the new relationships building between the people in the different groups while the show is going on."
Sit-Down Tragedy president Amber Lehman '13 said that the show will be an opportunity to invite the audience to think critically about certain issues, particularly about the election and political system.
"Good comedy makes the viewer view something critically, whether it be the way that they perceive the world or just think critically about silly stuff," she said. "I would like them to think about things honestly and critically, but most of all have fun."
Ali and Gul Pir will perform in the Hinman Forum of Rockefeller Center tonight at 8:30 p.m.