Drawing a line between satirical and offensive content

Buraq Shabbir
September 13, 2019

Comedian and writer Shehzad Ghias has been entertaining people across Pakistan and beyond with his humorous ways for over a decade while creating awareness among the public at the same time. He is...

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Comedian and writer Shehzad Ghias has been entertaining people across Pakistan and beyond with his humorous ways for over a decade while creating awareness among the public at the same time. He is also trying to write a book for about two years but in the meantime you can hear him on his recently launched podcast called The Pakistan Experience – a platform that features unheard conversations and stories about Pakistan and its people.

Shehzad has been very vocal about some issues lately – from Aurat March 2019 to the issue of sexual harassment, Mohsin Abbas Haider’s domestic violence accusation and Hamza Ali Abbasi’s wedding announcement, he shared his views unapologetically.

We recently caught up with the artist over a telephonic conversation and spoke about challenges of being a comic-satirist in present times where everything spreads like wildfire and people are very easily offended.

Being vocal and opinionated is an acceptable feat in a comedian but one cannot and shouldn’t ignore social sensibilities.

“Personally, I am not someone who would offend the other person. I don’t do comedy/satire that offends anyone though there is always someone who doesn’t like what I say,” he began, adding that one has to see who that person is who finds our jokes offensive and why.

“For instance, if I write something against Hamza Ali Abbasi, if someone is offended just because he or she is a fan or brings theology into it and I decide to not say anything about it, then I think I’m not doing what good satirists should do.”

Amidst the recent domestic violence accusation on Mohsin Abbas Haider, Shehzad satirized Mohsin’s press conference. Similarly, he made fun of actor Hamza Ali Abbasi when he announced his wedding with his “platonic friend” and artist Naimal Khawar, via a social media post.

“On the flip side, there was a show on a local TV channel where they were making fun of a victim of domestic violence. That is not comedy,” Shehzad rightly asserted, adding that we shouldn’t be making fun of someone who has suffered.

“I don’t think you can do anything, let alone comedy, without hurting someone’s sensibilities,” Shehzad continued. “In general, we should be careful about what we believe in and be on the right side of the issue. Other than that, as long as you are offending the right people, people who are actually oppressors (Mohsin Abbas Haider, Narendra Modi, etc.), then you have done a good job.”

Shehzad went on to share a few guiding principles that he takes into consideration. “You make fun of what people do, not who they are,” he explained, quoting an example of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari that it should be on PPP policies or if Bilawal says anything idiotic but making fun of him as effeminate is like targeting who he is and not what he is doing.

“Don’t do that. Avoid stuff like that. We try and make punches out of the transgender community and not people with power. What power do they possess in our society?” he pointed out, speaking of the former.

Recently, Shehzad performed at multiple venues across Pakistan as part of the Dirty Comedy series which, according to the comedian, was very much in demand. “People liked it and I think it is a good cathartic release. These aren’t just dirty comedy shows; there is a lot of thought that goes into it. It might be politically incorrect but we target ideas that we are generally against. I do think that there was a little bit of positive impact because we plan it in a certain way.”

On a parting note, when asked about how the comedy scene in Pakistan has evolved over the years, he responded that there are a lot more live, stand-up shows happening now.

“There is a slightly western influx of stand-up comedy mixed with our local style and culture, which is fairly decent. It has picked up in the last couple of years with more art and community spaces opening up. People are more aware and have developed an interest in stand-up comedy but it is still very niche. It mostly takes place on the other side of the bridge, let alone Hyderabad and Sukkur,” he concluded.

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