FUNNY FOR A CAUSE

By: Jane Borges

Lahore is the most romantic city in the world.” His claim leaves the crowd in amused silence. “Whatever happened to Paris?” is what many are probably thinking.

But the 26 year old gives little room for his audience to indulge in vacuous thought. He quips, “Thanks to the power cuts in the evenings, I have candlelight dinner every day.” The air immediately lightens and the sound of people breaking into peals of laughter takes hold.

That’s Haris Khan for you. Expect him to find something unusually comical about a situation that would otherwise seem anything but funny. But for the Karachi-born, Muscat-raised Canadian, that’s the easiest way to go about doing one of the “toughest jobs in the world” – making people laugh.

Khan’s twisted observations on life doled out in the form of witty one-liners will make you laugh once and think twice. Because even as he is poking fun, he believes that he is raising serious concerns about race, gender and cultural differences.

As a brown Asian, in a predominantly white community, he’s seen how the equations work. We as a society need to be sensitised, he says, arguing that nothing drives the point home better than a joke.

The stand-up comedian from the city of Regina in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is in the sultanate as part of his first international tour: Haris Khan and Friends.

The tour kicked off in Lloydminster, Canada last October, before heading to Khan’s home country Pakistan, where the comedian spent two-long months dishing out locally-sourced oddities.

With Oman, Khan is now on the second leg of his six-month long mission to spread smiles with his wisecracks. He will be the guest performer at the Oman Comedy Central show at Radisson Blu on February 13.

“It’s like coming back home,” he says of his long overdue trip to Muscat. Khan studied at the Pakistan School Muscat and Salalah, and moved to Canada as a teenager to pursue further studies. A geology student, he chose to veer into comedy. “I was always the funny kid in school,” Khan recalls, adding, “I grew up on a diet of Robin Williams’ movies and also followed Pakistani artiste Omer Sharif and Russell Peters’ stand-ups very closely. They have been my biggest influences.”

“Thanks to my father, who is my mentor and is also intrinsically funny, comedy came very naturally to me. But being a professional comedian was always out of the question. Going on stage all by yourself and trying to make people laugh…man that’s exceptionally hard,” he says.

It may have been a fluke, but a four-minute short stand-up act at a monthly comedy show Pass the Hat in Regina set the stage for Khan. “It was very amateurish, but I remember people laughing so hard. And I thought… Why not?”

He bombed his next show. But Khan didn’t give up. “Stand- up is a discipline; it is an art that can only be honed through trial and error. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. It grows on you with time.”

In 2012, he was voted the second best comic in Regina. He also made television appearances, including acting in the popular Canadian show Little Mosque on the Prairie.

But it’s not just comedy that’s driving the funny man. He also shares a strong passion for charity. Every show Khan’s produced or been part of has addressed a serious cause, for which he also donates.

“Some people do comedy to make money, but I do it for a better cause. That’s why I decided to use my funny side to raise money for charities. Donating my time, volunteering and raising funds makes what I do seem worthwhile,” he says.

Khan has also been nominated for a few awards, including Red Cross Humanitarian prize.

For each show, the comedian highlights a different issue overriding society. One of his most successful charity shows – Stand Up Against Domestic Violence – was held in February 2013 at the University of Regina.

“This was nothing like anything that had been done before. Obviously, there is nothing funny about it. We touched upon the issue, but in a lighter vein. But the whole point of the show was to bring people together through comedy and speak about domestic violence,” he says. The money raised was donated to charities supporting victims of domestic violence in Canada.

The comedian had plans to raise money for charities in Muscat too. But his trip was too hurried to put everything in place. “I contacted a few charities and sent a few e-mails, but nothing really came through. Next year, hopefully, I will come ahead of time and organise a charity show to help support local groups. Since I grew up here and have a lot of memories in this place, I feel it would be my way of giving back to the place.”

Following the Oman leg, Khan has four shows lined up in UAE, including a charity event for the Canadian University of Dubai.

“In comedy, the rule of thumb is that you end your show at a high note with a joke that gets you a lot of laughter. I hope that’s how I will end my first International tour.”

SOURCE: Muscat Daily