The kind of comedy Zakir Khan dispenses is observational in nature and experience-laced.
The Indore, Madhya Pradesh, comedian has come a long way from his self-professed humble roots — he worked a spate of jobs from being a radio jockey to writer to YouTube star to poet to co-host (and co-writer) of On Air with AIB — and is now ready to make Dubai roar with laughter at his brand of funny.
Speckled with poetry and self-deprecating humour, the routine of the son of a music teacher, Ustad Ismail Khan, and housewife, Kulsum Khan, draws from Khan’s experience of being bullied as a child, past relationships and career hiccups.
Ahead of his show, on December 2, at Shaikh Rashid Auditorium, the funnyman talked expectations and why he is an agent of hope. The following excerpts have been edited for language and brevity.
What can Dubai expect from your show? And what are you looking forward to doing in the UAE?
Dubai is one of my favourite cities in the world and a home away from home. There are so many people I know who live here, friends who live here, that I don’t feel like I’ve gone abroad. Besides that, the people who come to the shows — from different countries, different cultures — and how they look at me make me feel very [at home].
As long as you don’t know something [completely] you should not comment on it too much, that’s been my learning over the years. I’m bringing stories from my childhood; if you’d had a childhood you’ll like my stories; that’s my local connect.
Over the years do you think humour has changed? How have audience tastes evolved?
The [comedy] scene [in India] started as an underground scene, so because it was an underground scene opinions were very blunt and because the format is of the West — where there is greater freedom of speech — and [because] no one [was] even looking at us [laughs] we got used to it. But thanks to YouTube, call it a blessing in disguise, the scene suddenly became very big. At the same time I am very proud of the scene which has a strong voice. [However] we [Indian comics] all keep getting into controversies, because we are not used to being subtle. In a country like India the art form is evolving and the sensibilities are also improving. So it’ll take time for both to match, but we are pushing the envelope at our end and so are people [the audience]. In five or ten years we will be an example society when it comes to comedy and tolerance.
Do you find yourself censoring your jokes in the UAE?
Zakir [on stage] is the happiest version of me. Haq Se Single’s last 30 minutes are a culmination of offstage and onstage learning over 28 years. So please watch the last 30 minutes. So that’s the best combination of Zakir onstage and offstage. Other than that, this [performing] is work and I see it as work, but as must honesty I can bring to the stage I try to do.
Have you ever had an unwelcome heckler in the crowd?
I’ve been lucky enough to be loved more than my counterparts. I don’t get as much flak or trolling as others do. And the stuff that does come my way... the thing is the place I’m coming from, people have already insulted me enough in life. These [hecklers] are an issue for people who’ve got a lot of love in life and are suddenly faced by abuses. I’ve been abused enough, so I’m quite comfortable. And I think in life it’s not important what you are getting, but what you are keeping and what you are letting go of. So I keep the love and let go of the hate.
What’s next for you?
So due to health reasons I’ll be cancelling a lot of shows, but I’m working on a fiction show for Amazon Prime and I’m very excited about it, because I’m directing it and for the first time I’ll be directing it and playing [a] role. I was looking for a hero, but then I realised that as a person who has come from such a humble background and small town, and with whatever God has blessed me with, if I don’t do it, how will people see hope for themselves? [I am the] agent of hope.
Don’t miss it!
Zakir Khan Live will be held on December 2 at Shaikh Rashid Auditorium as part of Fun Fest 2017. The event will also feature comedians from VDesi Laughs: Amit Asudani, Miqdaad Dohadwala and Salman Qureshi. Tickets cost Dh79, gates open at 7pm, and the show kicks off at 8pm.