Comedian Zakir Khan: ‘I use my insecurity to stay grounded’
There is something about Zakir Khan that makes you want to watch him perform again and again. He is endearing, his performance style is very conversational as if you are listening to a close friend in a group of five to eight people, his anecdotes are real, personal and are not restricted to a certain economic or social class -- they are about all-boys school, human relationships, parents, sexual tension and immigration. He doesn’t speak from a position of privilege but he allows you a real peek in his personal life and growing up years in Indore about which he is as ruthless as possible.
“To be very comfortable with yourself is a very important step in comedy. If you can’t do it sincerely, you won’t be able to do the comedy. And, it starts with self-deprecating humour where you are holding the power of saying the meanest thing. If I am going to say the meanest thing about myself then there is nothing left for you to say about me, and this also gives me the license to say anything about you as well,” explains Zakir who is performing his latest special ‘Tathastu’, which he says is not a regular comedy show but an emotional story and is very close to his heart, at NCPA ADD ART Festival.
The journey and the process
Comedians work heavily on their set, making it as tight as possible so that it can generate maximum laughs but Zakir’s sets are flexible, he is not throwing one joke after another but instead, he indulges you in a conversation.
“When I began, I used to do very ‘hey guys’ kind of comedy with a prepared set with one thing after another written in a set format but people didn’t accept it on my face. Then, I thought that I been doing kissa goi (storytelling) since childhood with my friends where I would sit with them until late in the night telling them stories so I tried that and it took me about two-three years but eventually, I brought it to the stage. Now, even if there are 15,000 people in an auditorium, I think that I am talking only to five people,” says Zakir.
When asked about his process of writing a set, he adds that it is very organic. “There is a word ‘aamad’ which means something that comes to your mind naturally. When I am on a stage, I am a free person and if I get a thought, I don’t hesitate from trying it then and there, and that’s how I also judge the capacity of that joke. Later, if I feel like I should add something, I do that and make it into three to four minutes long bite,” says Zakir who shot to fame in 2012 after winning a comedy competition organised by Comedy Central. Over the years, he wrote and played the protagonist in web-series Chacha Vidhayak Hain Humare, co-hosted and wrote On Air with AIB (a news comedy show), mentored upcoming comedian and judged comedy shows besides touring with his specials.
But, when was the last time he bombed? “It keeps on happening,” he admits bluntly and sharing an interesting anecdote, he adds, “I go to the stage after having biryani and cold-drink. So, I am burping in the middle of the set. And, the thing about cold drinks is that you don’t even realise that the burp is coming, it comes even in the middle of the sentence. (laughs)”
Zakir is also known for his punchline ‘sakht launda’ (somebody who has immense self-control), which has now become a part of day-to-day conversations besides a t-shirt caption. When asked about its discovery, he admits never giving it so much weight in the initial days and credit people for making it popular. “I once thought whether I can say that I am not an easy guy and then I said it once and then I said it in a few more performances and then the audience picked it up,” he says and explains, “the concept addresses sexual tension and it is very gender-neutral. It means that I am not going to fall for false hopes.”
In the present times when new comedians are taking the stage every other weekend, a comedian is bound to be insecure and Zakir is no alien to this feeling.
“The fear (that people will stop loving me) is there every night before I go to sleep and every morning after I wake up, I check whether that love is still there or not. But, what is important is how I react to my insecurity. I use it to keep myself grounded. Also, I come from a family where there are about 70-80 artists. Out of which, some worked and some didn’t, some worked well initially but didn’t after a point and some were average and are going on. This learning is there and this helps me stay where I am without swaying and doing everything. My expenses are same as they were four years ago,” says Zakir while adding that he has stopped being competitive. “I have lived a very competitive life, I have been participating in competitions since I was 9 years old and today I am 30 so it has been 21 years already and now I have given up on competitions. Recently, somebody wrote the number 1 comedian against me, I don’t want it, I don’t want to be number 1 or number 5. All I want is to be the most loved comedian and person. I have built a relationship with people and I want to have it forever,” he concludes.
1. Describe yourself in three adjectives: Hardworking, trustworthy and thoughtful
2. Best place to perform (auditorium/city): NCPA, Mumbai
3. A comedian you simply adore/envy: Amit Tandon, Kunal Kamra, Niti Palta, Abhijeet Ganguly, Alex
4. I wish I could: Sleep
5. A piece of advice that shaped you: When you are doing good, do it better instead of doing everything and anything
6. A book and film one must read and watch: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and Chhoti Si Baat by Amol Palekar
7. A series you recently binge-watched: Fleabag
8. Dream project: I want to design a farming course for teenagers where I will also intend to work groom their personalities
9. If not a comedian, you would have been: Music teacher
10. A tip for budding comedians: Just go on stage, it is a stage-practice art form