In conversation with comedian Danish Ali on how the quarantine has affected creatives
In person, comedian Danish Ali is even funnier than the hilarious sketches he puts up on YouTube, racking up millions of views and followers. Speaking to him, one doesn’t get a sense of celebrity but rather of warmth, relatability and humour.
As we begin conversing about how the lockdown has affected families, Ali mentions that his dog is definitely getting the best deal with longer walks and more cuddles; he then reveals that his pet tortoise used the quarantine lull to dig a tunnel in his mother’s garden and disappear. “Lillyput went all Prison Break on us, we have no idea how deep the tunnel is or where it leads to or where she is inside. Maybe when all this over, we’ll find out she’s dug her way to the beach!” he laughs.
Animal updates out of the way, we turn to a subject much less layered with levity and discuss how Corona has affected his comedy, business, content creation and work place structure. “Okay, so financially, I was expecting to see a dip in revenues but if I’m being honest, I’m doing better than before the lockdown. I’m creating more sponsored videos; I recently did a TVC for Jazz (Mobilink) regarding Corona.
“It’s a little too early to call it though. On one hand, the concern is that my normal sponsors will go under; chips and cookie brands, FMCGs, multinational and national brands or smaller businesses like travel agencies or online pharmacies etc. But then the same online pharmacy now has a greater need to market itself.
“Then there is also another factor to consider: all the budgets for traditional marketing and advertising, billboards etc. will be allocated online since physical activations aren’t viable right now. Advertising agencies whose role was to execute these marketing campaigns will now find themselves functioning as digital agencies till this lockdown lasts. There are pros and cons of course, though as it stands, I’ve made more money than normal but who knows what the future holds,” he adds with a chuckle.
Regarding the content that brands are focusing on now, Ali explains that he’s partnered with global health and social media platforms, and brands simply want him to use their guidelines or information points as the basis for his videos. “Most responsible brands, in fact all brands that have contacted me, have told us to follow WHO guidelines. Their content is Corona related and nobody is branching out into their own narrative,” he adds.
However, while business might be doing well, creating content during lockdown hasn’t been easy. “So the first two weeks of lockdown were disorienting and marked by low productivity. This week has been marginally better since we finished a script (which would normally be a very quick process at the office) but it’s difficult trying to find the motivation or groove.
The audience might not have noticed it so much because we had a backlog of content that we’ve been releasing during this time but they’ve been vlogs not sketches and we’re finally putting together something new,” Ali elaborates.
“It’s been a learning experience though. As creatives we’re used to spending a certain amount of time catching up or exchanging notes about our day at the office. However, since the lockdown I’ve found the need to check in with my employees before launching into work each day. They need to vent and need a space where they can air their grievances and without giving them that space and time, it’s impossible to get down to work or expect them to focus wholeheartedly” he says.
Ali further elucidates, “It’s also changed the way we view the work place. At the office we’d often feel that we’d waste too much time chit-chatting or hanging-out. I have come to realise now how important that time is for writing comedy or to the creative process and I think I’d probably incorporate more extra-curricular activities around the office and engage on a more personal level with my team.”
Has shooting and putting together content become easier now or harder? Ali definitely finds the process to be harder and lonelier now. “I hate it,” he states. “When I started making sketches I was a one man show; I’d write the script, shoot, light, edit and upload. Over the last few months I’d manage to build a team and I was producing a new sketch each week, something I hadn’t done solo in a while. Had I been able to maintain that pace, God knows where things might have progressed for me from there in a year? So it’s been a very lonesome process again and I’d quite begun to enjoy having a team and putting it together with them.
“Now I’m back to square one. I’m shooting alone, which is really boring and while I’ll screenshare on Zoom with them while editing the video so I’m not alone there, it’s quite a bummer to be away from a space and team I’d cultivated so recently,” he answers.
While we’re all struggling with finding the motivation to be productive or continue regular work routines, Ali is hoping that the lockdown will help businesses learn to be more understanding and empathic towards their employees and be more accommodating about working remotely. “Obviously, this is going to change structures, even if temporarily, and tech is taking over faster than ever. No company can say at this point that they’re doing better than before, unless they work for Zoom but I think we’ll see a shift in office culture, or at least I hope we will!” he laughs.