Read About The World Its Your Own Wallet
Comedy is serious business, for Ahmed Ali Butt.
His steely determination may not be easy to discern when he’s on stage dressed as a Baby Angel a la Tahir Shah. Or when he’s doling out fake awards, cocking a familiar eyebrow, poking fun at everything ranging from Humayun Saeed’s flirtations to social media rage Qandeel Baloch, and a red carpet wardrobe choice by Gohar Rasheed that had Ahmed pondering over the actor’s aspirations towards China.
With eyes twinkling and savoir-faire that he has honed over the years, Ahmed can rap on stage, deliver on-the-spot witticisms and keep a fair share of the limelight focused on himself in a multi-starrer movie.
He enjoys it, which is why he’s so good at it. On the day I meet him, he has been rehearsing through the night for a hosting gig and is up again, after sleeping for merely three hours. Following our interview, he is set for another prolonged rehearsal. Rather than be bleary-eyed and cranky, he’s getting by quite well with the help of strong black coffee and a spate of cigarettes.
“My wife hates that I smoke but she takes consolation in the fact that it’s the only bad habit I have,” he smirks. “I honestly don’t mind my long working hours. An awards ceremony may go on till the early hours of the morning or a hectic schedule may have my ricocheting back and forth between Karachi and Lahore. The longest I have gone off without sleep is three days but even then, I made sure that I did my work well.”
Beyond the glamorous veneer of celebrity life, it’s a lot of hard work — and Ahmed is very, very serious about it. “Comedians need to be given due importance or the profession will simply die. They are often the highlight of a movie, a sitcom or a show and yet, they are relegated to the background when it is time to give out awards. There was a show where a client wanted me to enter while dancing the bhangra to a dhol beat. I refused to be part of it. I cannot allow my years of hard work to be disrespected like that.”
Instead, he has chosen to rule the roost with projects that he enjoys: a major role in last year’s super-hit laugh-a-minute flick Jawani Phir Nahi Ani and the main lead in the comically poignant sitcom, Mr Shamim. Naturally jovial and a performer to the core, he’s also side-splittingly funny as a host. “I come from a family that celebrates weirdness,” he smiles. “When I was young, I was very good at mimicry and at family functions I would be asked to imitate my Naano, the late Madam Noor Jehan.”
It’s this inherent predilection for the spotlight, coupled with a wicked funny bone that enables him to hold his own as a host, most recently at this year’s ARY Film Awards (AFA), Hum Awards and the PAS Awards.
Given his current highly-coveted status, has Ahmed put on starry airs and graces? “Not much and never unnecessarily,” he shrugs. “Having said that, sometimes when you’re dealing with attitude, you have to give off some attitude of your own.”
“This doesn’t mean that I’ll insist that clients fly me via Business Class or have me transported in huge, luxurious cars,” he asserts. “In fact, I’ve posted Instagram images of myself flying Economy while going somewhere which had fans commenting on why I wasn’t in the cabin ahead. My reasoning is: we’re all going the same way!
“I do, however, put my foot down when it comes to content. I don’t do work that I don’t believe in or associate with unscrupulous event organisers who don’t deliver on their promises. The script to any project is key and I work hard on it.”
Corporate events that Ahmed invariably hosts every month require a different brand of comedy. “I’ll quip with the CFO, telling him ‘Zara cheque toh dilwa dein’. Even in a business environment, people enjoy being singled out and put in the spotlight.”
At media-centric ceremonies, his on-stage jibes are more pointed. Are these jokes, apparently so spontaneous, also conceived earlier? “I usually make a rough outline, put in pointers and add in jokes here and there, but most of it is improvised right there and then. I sometimes have jokes planned out with celebrities in the audience but by the time I drift through the seats, some of them have walked out for a smoke and others have left. Then I just joke about with those that I see.”
Many of his best hosting gigs have been alongside scriptwriter, actor and friend Vasay Chaudhry. “We are often on the same wavelength,” agrees Ahmed. “When I first met Vasay, I was in college. I was on the verge of staging a play called Maula Jutt while Vasay’s theatrical Jutt and Bond was being performed at the time. I went to see the play and it shocked me as it was too similar to my own script. I met Vasay afterwards with a huge, fake smile before rushing back home and rewriting my whole script!
“We work well together. We’re also currently working on a movie script together and for shows, Vasay often writes the scripts and I build upon it, or vice versa.”
The Vasay-Ahmed duo is particularly lethal when it comes to poking fun at celebrities in the audience at a show. It helps that they are on great terms with quite a few of them — probably the reason why Hamza Ali Abbasi didn’t mind getting ribbed about his Facebook statuses or Faisal Qureshi and Aijazz Aslam laughingly accepted the pointedly cheeky ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ fake award at AFA ’16. Don’t the victims of these jokes sometimes mind the teasing, that too, on national television?
“They do, a lot of times. It’s all in good humour but if I find out that someone feels hurt, I go up to them and apologise later. A lot of times, the women tell me that they don’t mind my jokes because I say them in such a cute way! That’s a plus, I suppose,” he laughs.
“A comedian should, most importantly, be willing to make fun of himself. That’s something I do quite often. And I make my wife laugh, which is very important to me.”
Anyone familiar with Ahmed’s social media trysts is, of course, familiar with his wife, Faatima Khan Butt. The two are a familiar red carpet couple now, posing away in designer digs and quite adroit at clicking selfies. “Vasay, who isn’t too fond of social media, asks me why I upload so many images online. I tell him that when I die, people will have all these images with which they could chronicle my life!” quips Ahmed. “It helps that I am not too finicky about how my photographs turn out. I don’t have a ‘left angle’ or a well-practiced selfie pout that I absolutely need to pose with.
“Snapchat boggles me right now but I do enjoy Instagram and Facebook,” he continues. “I maintain my accounts myself and it’s a great platform for connecting with fans and building mileage for my work. This is the era of Insta-lebrities and it’s important to be visible on social media.
“Social media/publicity images attract fans — and then talent and hard work keeps them rooted.” That’s a principle that Ahmed lives by and it’s worked well for him so far. The future, like the past, promises to be a rollicking, merry ride.