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Meet Some of The Funniest Women In Pakistan

Smashing patriarchy one joke at a time

By Hafsa Saeed

Historically, politicians and women have been the butt of Pakistani comedy. From Umer Shareef’s standup comedy in the 90s’ to YouTube comedians today, it seems like sexist humour is still going strong. A video titled When Girls take Off Their Makeup by Canadian Pakistani Zaid Ali T has garnered over 900K views, whereas comedian Sham Idrees’s video, Marriage Ke Side Effects, which shows wives as either submissive beings or insecure ones has actually been liked by over 40K people.

But are these men about to meet their feminist match?

While this misogynistic shtick still continues, strong female voices have been breaking through the clutter, shaking up the comedy scene in more ways than one, talking about issues that actually matter! Don’t get us wrong for boobs and periods are not the only thing on the menu here. Everything is game, including Coke Studio 10 and politics!

Women’s Own reached out to four funny women including Faiza Saleem, Imaan Sheikh, Yusra Amjad, and Osheen Fatima.

Read on to find out what we asked them, what they find funny, and how are they so amazing at what they do.

Imaan Sheikh

This Dubai-based Pakistani is a staff writer at Buzzfeed India and a Meme Goddess. The latter has made her a heartthrob amongst millennials. Because what better way is there apart from memes to communicate with millennials?

But it wasn’t her memes that got her that blue tick on Twitter, it was her ‘honest’ review of DDLJ (and many such films), that has over 1K shares on Facebook. Her expertise in all things Rahul and Anjali make her a force to reckon with.

How is it different being a woman in comedy in Pakistan?

As a Pakistani woman, you can address anything and get a haw-haye, really. You have to be careful, but not too careful. I’ve stopped caring about the ghairat brigade. I think we sorely need comedy, not only by women but also for women.

I personally heavily section anything I make to be seen/read/understood by women. It’s not an advantage in some ways, but in other ways I think our experiences are unique to us, and LOL-catharsis is a pretty healthy way to deal with them, at least emotionally.

What are some of the things you’re talking about as a woman that haven’t really been talked about before?

I don’t think I’ve brought anything exceptionally new to the table. Non-mainstream Pakistani women have been talking about these things for a while, using symbols and analogies. I just like to put it in memes and satirical posts instead of in a formal column.

Pakistani women have always had cutting wit, but few have been given the encouragement or liberties to share their wit. I think Auratnaak and Khawatoons are doing an exceptional job making it a reality.

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High time women start making fun of things on a level like this. Male comedians have been making dough off ridiculing us forever. It’s so damn boring.

Lately what is your favourite theme in your comedy?

Lately, my favourite theme has been mental health. Mental health is not something that deserves ridicule, but comedy makes for a refreshing tool to deal with it, though. I love creating and viewing depression memes, and reading satirical feminist posts.

How is it actually an advantage being a woman in comedy?

For starters, you get to offer something that hasn’t been done to the ground 3000 times previously.

Is it a lot more pressure being funny in a place like Pakistan, where the environment is mostly grim?

I think being in/from Pakistan offers too many chances for dark humour.

Who are your funny women mentors? Locally and abroad?

No big celebrity names, really. Most of the funny women that inspire me are ordinary women with Twitter accounts.

Yusra Amjad

Yusra Amjad “writes sad things and says funny things”. She is a writer, poet, and a professional whiner. But more importantly, she’s part of the Auratnaak group and loves to laugh at the patriarchy.

Watch out for her next Auratnaak show in Lahore and a poetry collection all set to launch soon.

How is it different being a woman in comedy in Pakistan? What are some of the typical desi retorts you get?

Someone once asked me why feminist comedy is always about periods. Another time a man told me he entered an Auratnaak show and knew we were “all feminazis”. He then proceeded to define “feminazi” for me, in case I wasn’t familiar with the term.

This is how it is different. We get to hear a lot of different things that men don’t.

A lot of comediennes in Pakistan also have to operate discreetly because of fear of social or familial disapproval. If I post a video on my social media, I worry about my clothes being appropriately modest as much as I worry about being funny.

I would say these kinds of concerns are specific to conservative countries.

What are some of the things you’re talking about as a woman that haven’t really been talked about before?

I don’t think there is anything women have not talked about before. I don’t wish to paint myself as a pioneer. I think it’s more that people haven’t been listening. I hope more people are listening now, and progress is being made.

I joke about mansplaining, about being a woman in the Pakistani workplace, about being a female driver in Lahore, about the weird paradox of being a conservative muslim society that adores “shameless” western media.

A lot of my fellow Auratnaaks are much more uninhibited in their comedy; they have jokes about oral sex, extended nipple analogies, waxing walis likened to secret lovers, you name it.

If I’m going to bleed for five days every month for most of my life, I might as well get a laugh out of it.

How is it actually an advantage being a woman in comedy?

Women have a whole secret life that they are constantly discouraged from talking frankly about. This means that we have a wealth of material to joke about.

Women in comedy have mystery, something that men lack because for most of history the male experience and narrative has been shoved down everyone’s throats. We know the punchlines. We’ve heard them before.

What is the funniest thing on the internet these days?

The distracted girlfriend meme with marxist captions, Jinnah’s Tweets, Atiya Abbas’s twitter, and Adam Tots’ Instagram.

What’s the funniest thing that has happened in Pakistan this year?

The Coke Studio cover of Sayonee!

How does feminism feature in your comedy?

I like joking about situations we don’t hear the female perspective on very often; if jokes are made at the expense of women because we’re ’emotional’, I want to flip that and joke about men with low emotional intelligence.

I think humour is a very powerful tool of social change – what better way to dismantle a hierarchy than by laughing at it?

Yusra compares Pakistan’s provinces to the houses at Hogwarts and well, we couldn’t help but agree and of course, laugh.

You can follow Yusra’s work here.

Osheen Fatima

Osheen Fatima is a standup comedian who practices medicine (“very poorly”, according to her) on the side. She is often found obsessing about her hair, and how to get someone to like her, all the while smashing the patriarchy with her sarcasm.

She’s part of the Auratnaak troupe, and you can catch her at their next show in Lahore.

How is it different being a woman in comedy in Pakistan?

I mean it involves a lot of sneaking around. It’s hard to explain to family, friends, and even employers, that you do standup comedy. It’s not very acceptable.

Then there’s the tedious screening of audiences and convincing owners of the venues to not make videos and publicize them online, because it’s just not safe to be a woman and say the things we say.

That said, the tragedies make for great material!

What are some of the things you’re talking about as a woman that haven’t really been talked about before?

Things like navigating love lives as an independent woman is something I really focus on. Also families, and the myriad issues that come with being an opinionated girl in a family that loves and wants to protect you.

What is always, always funny?

Everything can be funny honestly, if you really hate the world like I do. But a safe bet is things your mom and dad say to you on a daily basis. Parents can be so disconnected from reality when it comes to their kids, because of the love and fear for their safety that they come out with some real gems!

Is it a lot more pressure being funny in a place like Pakistan, where the environment is mostly grim?

I don’t think so. I feel like we’re always ready to laugh, at ourselves, at others, anything…just to relieve the tension, alleviate the pain of watching your fellow countryman suffer so much.

What’s the funniest thing that has happened in Pakistan this year?

Pakistani politics is a comedy of errors honestly.

What is the funniest thing on the internet these days?

Anything AIB does has me in fits especially when it’s starring Mallika Dua.

Faiza Saleem

Image source: Usman Ismail photography

The lawyer turned comedian has a knack for presenting the mainstream social narrative in the funniest way possible. Her  mockery of the people who think that Nazimabad is not a part of Karachi went viral in December 2014 and Saleem hasn’t looked back since then. From shutting down fat-shamers to making fun of the status quo, this founder of an all-girls improve group, The Khawatoons, has 2.1K shares on Facebook on average and was recently featured at country’s most sassiest award ceremonies: the Lux Style Awards!

She is currently busy training new recruits for her troupe, planning a number of social media campaigns, gearing up for her film cameo in Parchi, and waiting for a TV project to come on air.

You can catch her at her regular performance venue, The Thotspot in Karachi, and on the big screen in December.

Image source: Usman Ismail photography

How is it different being a woman in comedy in Pakistan? What are some of the typical desi retorts you get?

It’s tough to make your mark and once you’ve made it, to retain that position. As Pakistanis we already have a lot of limitations.

We stay away from religion and sometimes politics too. Even use of profanities is frowned upon, let alone explicit references that comedians in the West or even a place like India can get away with.

In my case, there’s a lot of fat shaming and then comments on me being besharam.

The advantage is that there’s an untouched market here. There’s space for everyone.

What are some of the things you’re talking about as a woman that haven’t really been talked about before?

Feminism of course and what it really means. I’m open with my comedy. If I want to say something inappropriate I would rarely hold back provided it’s adding substance to my comedy.

Image source: Usman Ismail photography

What is always, always funny?

Sadly, for our Pakistani audience FAT jokes. To me, brutal honesty is always funny especially when it’s about you.

How does feminism feature in your comedy?

Sometimes it’s subtle sometimes not. But I don’t have to go out of my way to feature feminism in my comedy. The fact that I have brought so many women into comedy with the The Khawatoons and the Auratnaak Show is enough.

Several women come up to me and tell me that they never thought a woman could have a career in comedy before, but now it’s a real possibility for them. Nothing makes me happier. Women can be empowered in several ways, not just one.

What’s the funniest thing that has happened in Pakistan this year?

I thought the Calibri debacle was hilarious. As a technically challenged person, I was grateful that I’m not corrupt.

Let’s end this on a hilarious note!