Getting Serious About Being Funny: Lawyer Turned Comedian Faiza Saleem Has Changed Pakistani Comedy Forever

Getting Serious About Being Funny: Lawyer Turned Comedian Faiza Saleem Has Changed Pakistani Comedy Forever
We’ve all heard the saying, ‘laughter is the best medicine,’ but the phrase couldn’t be more true for this vivacious woman who is bubbling with energy and so full of life. A lawyer by profession, Faiza Saleem always had an interest in theatre. That’s not to say that law didn’t take her fancy — it did; she chose to study the subject in order to make a difference in society and have an impactful career.

With luck on her side, Saleem not only aced her classes, but also did extremely well in moot court-cases, winning herself many championships while doing an external program at SZABIST. Her academic brilliance landed her a great job working with Jibran Nasir at Manzil Pakistan, a public policy thinktank, where after a few months she was promoted to lead the team as head of the legal department.

Even though as a youngster Saleem battled stage-fright and had incidents where she stammered in front of a crowd, she was always drawn to theatre and acting. She didn’t let her stage-fright get in the way of her ambitions and instead dug deep to find the courage and confidence to stand up and perform for onlookers. Alongside other co-curricular and extracurricular activities, this bright young student continued to dabble in drama. So it came as no surprise that as her career was merely taking off, Saleem continued to pursue her passion for theatre by joining an improv troupe called ‘The Platoon’ while also making short comic drama clips and posting them on Social Media. Soon she had a massive following of people who thought she was hilarious. And why wouldn’t they?

Have you seen her poke fun at our society? In case you haven’t, we suggest you check her out on YouTube as her extremely relatable desi humour will leave you bent over with laughter and in stitches! There’s never a bad time for a hearty laugh. As Faiza sat at her desk, often daydreaming of a day when she could give more of her time to acting and comedy, she felt that she wasn’t being able to influence society or the justice system as she would like and her heart felt less and less invested in law as the days passed by. Hard work didn’t seem to be paying off and she couldn’t see that she was making any difference. It was while these thoughts were still fogging up her mind that she had a rude and tragic awakening, reminding her how fleeting and fragile life could be. On a day that was just like any other, Saleem received a call that would change her life forever. It was 2014 and without any warning her father passed away leaving Saleem and her family devastated. The reality of life’s unpredictability came like a slap in the face, forcing this young and talented woman to take charge of her life and rethink her priorities. One notion kept going round in her head… ‘you never know when life will end,’ she recalls. With dark thoughts such as this clouding her mind, she thought, ‘what if I die just like this, (in the same sudden and unexpected way as my father) with unfulfilled ambitions and no contentment?’ That was all the affirmation she needed and just like that, Faiza

Saleem, full of sass and bursting with confidence, walked in to her office, went up to her boss and gave in her resignation.

Starting out, she was clear that she wasn’t looking for fame or money, rather this was an outlet to practice an art that she enjoyed, while also cracking people up and poking fun at issues that plague our society. There she was, a female comedian in Pakistan, holding her own in a sea of essentially only men and boys in the same field — yet people were enjoying her humour. Bringing a woman’s narrative to the stage, which was otherwise lacking,

Saleem offered something different to the Pakistani comedy scene. ‘Nobody was talking about women,’ she says, which is one of the reasons she felt it was almost important for her to do so. Initially, she admits, she was a little concerned about how she would make money without a salaried job, as she had been used to, but that’s when her business acumen kicked in. She wasn’t going to be merely a comedian — she was going to use her talent — and make it lucrative — so that she could be self-sufficient and not have to rely on anyone financially.

As she began her journey to full-time comedy, she faced a backlash from family and friends who wondered what she was doing with her life. Initially they attributed Saleem’s decision to switch careers as, ‘just a phase’ but soon saw that it was evolving into something more. Not letting the haters get to her, ‘what if,’ she thought, ‘I make my own troupe, with just women in it? As the idea took root in her mind, she wondered, how and if she would even be able to do it. Looking back at those days, a smile spreads on the now-successful entrepreneur’s face. ‘Do I have it in me, I asked myself, wondering if I had enough improv experience.’ Back then, amidst the uncertainty of what her future held she thought long and hard, and as she saw it there were two choices. ‘It could start and end with me, as I continued to do what I do,’ or the other alternative was to start a movement that encouraged women to get on stage. Saleem rolled the dice and took the gamble, placing all bets on herself! And we can definitely say Pakistan is that much the richer for it! Her brave move forward is how the Khawatoons came into being. The journey was long and tedious, perhaps more demanding than any other full-time job. Saleem had to convince women to take part in improv, join her troupe and then train them to be able to perform. She worked tirelessly to recruit and train females from all walks of life, across various age groups and backgrounds, to do humour that’s, ‘very desi and to do with Pakistani society’ which really hits home. It took them six months of training and practice before they went on stage for their first show which was a roaring success. Having done improv more regularly than most people and with an avid interest in reading, Saleem not only taught herself but then imparted that knowledge to her teammembers.

This turned out to be a pretty emotionally exhausting experience, as people who joined the troupe came and went. Two years on, there are seven

Khawatoons, some of which have been around since the very beginning! While all this was coming together, so was another platform, ‘The Auratnaak Show’ which is a stand-up comedy troupe. Both names took a lot of brainstorming to come up with since a desi twist was absolutely necessary. ‘No matter how anglicised we are, when it comes to desi humour, people laugh their a**es off!’ laughs Saleem.

Sighing, as we asked her if she’s faced any heckling, which of course she has, what stands out is the one thing that really ticks her off — body shaming. ‘I have people come to my shows and call me fat, and that’s it — I don’t let it go, I really give it to them!’ We don’t doubt her! Whether they’re youngsters or uncles, Saleem gives anyone that tries to fat-shame her, a piece of her mind, so that they know that it is not acceptable. “I bet you they will never do it again, once I’m through with them. They come to my show and call me fat – often not realising they’re being offensive!’With their distasteful comments causing audiences to erupt in laughter, these unknowing offenders often think they’re being funny. Saleem sees it as her job to set them straight, and she takes it very seriously!

As this funny lady gets ready to marry her best friend from childhood later this year, she is also looking to increase her TV presence so looks like 2018-19 will be seeing a lot more of her in our lounges! Talk about multi-tasking. Faiza Saleem is quite the star, but she hasn’t let her good fortune get to her head; she is grounded and humble, and even with her experience, eager to learn and grow. Not that she has much free time on her hands, but when she does, she loves to read and travel. Already having become an inspiration to a number of females who have come up as social media comedians after herself, she wants to continue to provide acting platforms for these ladies going forward, while also exploring her own comic abilities.

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