There are many known facts about Zaid Ali T. For instance, he’s a Pakistani living in Canada and is famous for his funny videos, the T in his name stands for Tahir, he has nearly 5 million followers on Facebook and that he gave away an IPhone 7 to celebrate that number. However, what many people don’t know is that in person, Ali T is an extremely smart and business-minded person and all this fame, which he has received at such a young age, isn’t a fluke.
We got a chance to meet Ali T when he came to Karachi to perform at the Hum Style Awards. While the performance wasn’t fit for such a grand stage, it was typical Ali T humour, which has made him what he is today. What made him so viral though? While some people find him hilarious, others wonder what it is about him that makes his work so popular. On average, each of his videos gets millions of views and thousands of comments.
“It was a slow and steady – actually, it wasn’t a slow but steady process. It’s like I was getting a certain number of page likes a day, it’s not like one video became instantly viral or anything,” Ali T reflects back on the days when he was still making his place in the world of virality. “It just kept growing.”
The videos are quite short, not longer than two minutes, and are usually not very good quality either. The camera work is amateur, there aren’t too many people in them, all pointing to the fact that the comedian likes to keep his work as simple as possible.
“Improving the production quality doesn’t give it a home-made feel which is what my videos are all about. I can improve the production but then it feels like a short film and not a funny video. It also loses its humour,” explained Ali T. He added that he once tried to improve the quality of production, which in turn made his work less funny. Perhaps that adds to the silliness that comes across while watching Ali T wearing a dupatta over his head and playing two characters at the same time. Also, improving the production means more work, which isn’t something anyone can do when they have to put out videos on a regular basis.
However, the frequency of these videos has started to decrease as well, where the comedian admits that from posting videos daily, he has now reached a point where he posts a new video every once a month or two. Why has this happened?
“There are too many people doing it and I want to do something different. Also, every idea has a video now, there are very few original ideas left. I like making my videos very quality based and something everyone can relate to. The ones that I make that are really funny don’t do as well as the ones that are relatable.”
This brings us to a very pertinent matter, one that concerns Ali T today. He is accused of stealing jokes, with many local newspapers drawing comparisons to work other comedians have done before him and the similarities are striking. Thankfully, he doesn’t deny or dismiss these accusations and tries to explain his point of view, which may not appeal to everyone’s sensibility but at least proves that the comedian is honest. “I’ve always admitted it; I don’t always say all of my work is my own. Some I took from other people and put my own twist to it, and those people took it from other jokes that have existed since the eighties. We all know about this stuff, it’s just being put into different versions. My comedy has my own touch to it; somebody else’s video has their touch to it.
Anything that’s negative, I don’t want to comment on it publicly because I don’t like giving it more attention. I’ve admitted that I’ve taken a lot of videos and nowadays a lot of people do that. It’s like Bollywood has been doing it for years. They copy scenes from Hollywood and have their own interpretations and versions. I think they just came after me because I was relatively more known at the time.” Perhaps what would make it better is if Ali T starts to give credit to the videos where he draws his inspiration from. That way, his original work will not be coated with the same brush and credit will be given where it’s due.
If you’re wondering what his favourite video is, then it’s probably the same one you’re thinking about as well. “It’s the bhai one. Also, there is one of a guy who is catcalling a girl and one of the guys turn out to be the girl’s brother. That was one of my good videos because it had a message behind it. It spread a lot of awareness in India and Pakistan around this issue so that’s something I’m very proud of making. With comedy if you can send out a message as well, it’s always good.”
But is that a priority for the comedian? To create videos which have a message? “My priority is to make work that’s clean, secondly, it has to be funny, and then if it has a message then that’s fine as well.”
While the young artist wishes to stay away from controversy, there are certain issues he feels strongly about. One matter close to his heart is respect for parents while the other is about producing ‘clean’ family-oriented work. “Pakistani films are generally better, I think Bollywood has more of a tendency to be vulgar.”
Which is perhaps why the budding talent is considering accepting a comedic role in a Pakistani film. While details of the film cannot be divulged at the moment, it seems as though Ali T will eventually say yes to the role. “I think its something exciting, something new. A lot of people wanted me to do dramas but I feel like my personality is more towards comedy. If I was put in a romantic movie, a lot of people would just laugh because they know me as the funny guy.”
Ali T has come a long way, long enough for him to be able to separate the love from the hate. It is only natural to catch an envious eye, or ten, when one becomes successful. “In the beginning there was a lot of hate that would not let me sleep at night. I would feel like ‘oh no I need to delete this and that’ but now I’m like, ‘whatever’. It’s just part of daily life now.” He is also realistic about his future as a viral sensation because all the money and opportunities that are rolling in right now might not be there tomorrow. “Whatever money I’m making, it’s not for me to spend right away. I’m saving it for the next ten years.” More power to you Ali T!
This article was first published in Instep, 13th November 2013.