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Pakistani comedian breaks barriers, shows laughter is a charitable remedy

Danish Maqbool is a comedian from Pakistan and donates to a charity that builds schools in his home country. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

The healing element of laughter is a widely perpetuated cliche, but Pakistani comedian Danish Maqbool has broken into the industry and now uses his art to give back to his home country in the form of education rebuild where it is truly needed.

UH’s Pakistani Student Association is contributing to The Citizens Foundation, a nonprofit committed to instituting change through education. PSA brought in Maqbool, a New Jersey-based comedian of Pakistani descent, to perform a free show and gather donations for TCF.

This is an evolution of philanthropy, especially regarding this developing nation. The club is using this campaign to raise awareness and give back.

TCF was founded in 1995 and has built 1,441 schools for 204,000 students with an all-female faculty of 12,000, according to its website. The female staff is crucial, as it allows potential employment for educated women.

The biased education system in Pakistan fails to serve the destitute, disenfranchised and illiterate, but by raising awareness and money in this revolutionary manner, PSA has made it a more approachable conversation.

Making a way

Maqbool feels that it is important to speak out in this particularly marginalized industry because he said he sensed a lack of “diverse and authentic perspectives.” This is evident in the comedy industry, where comedians are archetyped based on their distinctive “race of humor.” Few comedians have been able to transcend the binds of their color.   

Not only does the West have an infamous reputation for its lack of diversity in comedy, but the East also delegitimize the value of this career. The precarious nature of financial security in comedy is coupled with the backbiting facet that it is immensely looked down upon in Muslim culture.

The faces of comedy in the United States are David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Jerry Seinfeld, the traditional whiten stereotype of the talk show host. Comedians of color, such as Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Hasan Minhaj, are successful, but they will not attain the level of notoriety as their white counterparts.

Maqbool said he “had to make it. Otherwise everyone would be right.” This pressure from his homeland and his current home stems from the stereotype that comedy is not compatible with his skin color.

Pakistani culture is not immensely hospitable to Maqbool’s career due to the aversion toward liberal arts. Interestingly enough, Pakistan is reputable for its poets and various creative arts, but the culture takes itself too seriously for comedy to find a comfortable home.

As with everything in the age of social media and technology, this mindset is shifting, but revolutionaries like Maqbool still face what he refers to as discrimination in the industry and fake love from family and friends.

As he goes on his third countrywide tour of U.S. colleges, Maqbool feels pressured to succeed in comedy — something that’s commonly felt .

Any career outside the norm is looked down upon, especially as a vocation in which success is measured in laughs.

This event had the advantage of duality. It brought awareness not only to the charity organization in Pakistan, but also to stand-up comedy.

The rise of minority comedians, such as Minhaj and Trevor Noah, shows that the process is evolving. The issue of race being relevant to this career is still prevalent because the aforementioned comedians are still referred to as “brown comedians,” which institutionalizes the disparities between race and relevance.

Laughs for literacy

The charity they’re working toward aims to raise awareness for the gender roles that must be endured to obtain an education in Pakistan. The public school system is an abysmal failure.

The gender discrimination has produced an incredible bias, with a 71 percent literacy rate for men, while women had only 48 percent in 2013. This stark contrast embodies the obstacles presented to women, and rates tend to be lower in more rural areas. There are more public institutions of learning, but they’re poorly funded.

This has been the case for so long that lower classes no longer have the means or motivation to seek higher education. Societal constraints have hindered progress to the extent that people are discouraged.

The money raised from the stand-up set will be donated to an organization in Pakistan that seeks to better the public school system and recruit students. It is common to see children begging, stealing or selling common items for survival when they should be in school.

The gender gap makes parents apprehensive to send girls to school, especially considering the benefits a young marriage compared to investing in education. The war on terror has also demobilized literacy campaigns, as many educational institutions were damaged or destroyed. This makes it immensely difficult for the poor to leave the vicious cycle of destitution.

A charity like TCF is essential to Pakistan’s development. There is progress every day as more students attend schools thanks this nonprofit’s work. They are instilling an insatiable curiosity in children and investing in education for a better future.  

An event like this poses quite the advantage to society and to our campus due to the awareness it brings with it. It pushes Pakistani culture to claim some adaptability to the arts, especially the comedic ones. It also makes this conversation far more palatable because it can be done amid laughter, which may not be medicine but is truly the best coping mechanism.

Senior staff writer Anusheh Siddique is a political science freshman. She can be reached at [email protected].

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