Shafaat Ali has been doing stand-up comedy, hosting morning shows, acting in dramas and films, and has also worked with Anwar Maqsood in Faisla Mehfooz Hai. However, one skill he is really good at is impersonating famous personalities and leaving people in fits of laughter.
We recently caught up with the artist, who claims that he wants to make Pakistan proud, no matter what. Here are excerpts from the interview.
How do you manage hosting, acting and stand-up comedy all at once?
When you have the will, you have to manage it but at times it is quite difficult to do all things at once. No artist should overdo anything since it leads to creative suicide and trust me, I was going there. Ever since I have become part of the morning show routine, I do only my show on weekdays and host or perform in corporate events and stand-ups on weekends. The morning show takes 90 per cent of my time because one has to do research and prepare for the next day which I can’t with multiple projects. If I ever get a good script for a TV drama or a film, then I will not hesitate to say yes but right now I can’t. Until and unless the ethics culture in our TV industry improves and punctuality is followed by all, it seems a little difficult.
You have imitated many famous people. Which one you enjoyed copying the most?
This is a difficult question because while some like my parodies, many don’t. The best compliment I have received was from Anwar Maqsood, who asked me to imitate Zaeem Qadri during the break in our show and my parody made him laugh a lot. Then, one day I met Imran Khan at a Coffee shop in Karachi, where he asked me to do a Shehbaz Sharif in front of Jasmine Manzoor. I did an impromptu parody of the former CM Punjab and the applause and appreciation I got was phenomenal. I like it when people say good things about my content and vocals but at the same time, there are a lot, including Rehman Malik, who didn’t like my parody of him when I did it in front of him. Many cricketers, actors, and celebrities also don’t like my impressions of them, even though others find it hilarious.
What made you become an impressionist?
I have been writing political satire since 2009. In 2016, I resigned from Channel 24, where I was doing my own show. At that time, I had no clue what I was going to do next but since I had always wanted to become like Russel Peters, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, I tried to go their way. I had no idea how to go about it but it hit me while I was conducting a training workshop with the Punjab Police; I found out that I had the power to convince people. I tried to use my political knowledge and utilized it for the first time at the School of Tomorrow event two years back, and it was magic. After that, I started getting offers for hosting or doing funny segments at corporate events.
How was the experience of working with legendary playwright Anwar Maqsood in Faisla Mehfooz Hai?
I always wanted to do something like Loose Talk with Anwar Maqsood so when I approached and convinced a local TV channel with the idea, they sent me to Anwar sahib who interviewed me for two hours in his study. What started as an interview ended at ‘okay we will do it,’ and that was the moment when I must have skipped a beat. It was the biggest achievement of my short career to sit in the same seat as the late Moin Akhtar sahib, a seat that was vacant since 2011. Anwar sahib decided to name the program Faisla Mehfooz Hai as he didn’t want to name it Loose Talk in his former colleague’s memory and it seemed like a good idea. After 3 episodes for Eid holidays, we didn’t continue the show but I am confident that one day I would get to work with Anwar sahib again, and this time the show will be marketed in a better way and will get its due.
How do you feel when people compare you to the late comedy king Moin Akhtar?
There is no comparison at all; I can never be like him. In fact, if I’m born 10 times and do nothing besides comedy, even then I can’t match what he did in one lifetime. Just to be in the same line as Moin Akhtar is a big responsibility!
You are a Peshawar-born and have performed in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Which city strikes you the most when it comes to standup comedy?
I was born in Peshawar but I haven’t done a public event in the city. Islamabad is a dull city I must say, especially after performing in Karachi and Lahore. I connect the most with people in Punjab, who share the same DNA, whereas I know the nerve of Karachi as I struggled in this city when I started my career. Both Lahore and Karachi are so rich that you can crack jokes right, left and center. One thing that makes Karachi superior is the fact that it isn’t monotonous like Lahore. The city is diverse as there are a lot of syllabuses; every syllabus has its own genre and every genre has its own comedy. That’s why while doing comedy here, one can add dimensions to the act, and make it worth the audience’s while.
You worked with Mohsin Abbas Haider in 4 Man Show and Banana News Network (BNN). What’s your take on the domestic violence allegation on him?
Mohsin and I haven’t interacted much since we left BNN in 2014 but I had heard about his anger issues. At that time he wasn’t very popular but if he has done it, it is wrong and can’t be justified. Everyone has some kind of baggage in their past, and I feel he was unlucky that he was unable to get rid of his.
– Omair Alavi is a freelance broadcast journalist who can be contacted at [email protected]