by Amina Khan
“Read a lot of anti-Pakistan comments today online because of Independence Day. One of them said that if you’re a Christian and go to Pakistan they’ll immediately kill you. It was weird reading that while eating mangoes with a mix of Muslims and Christians with both a mosque and a church next door,” Comedian Jeremy McLellan said.
If I am being completely honest, I was not a huge fan of the idea of a white person going to a foreign country to “tell their story”, as it touches on the white savior narrative on eradicating the stereotypes of said country. In this case, it was comedian Jeremy McLellan doing a tour in my country of heritage, Pakistan. However, like Americans have misconceptions of Pakistan, I had my misconceptions of the comical McLellan’s trip abroad.
McLellan is a comedian based from Charleston, South Carolina whose jokes interweave with politics and social issues which have attracted the Muslim and Pakistani community. According to an interview with Vice, McLellan never set out to appease Desi’s and Muslims- he just made jokes about what he saw in the news and fate brought him to a huge fanbase.
Through his posts on Facebook and the opportunity I had to conduct an interview with him, I was able to see how much McLellan adores Pakistan- almost as much as Pakistani’s adore him.
AMINA: What was your most memorable part of Pakistan?
JEREMY: There was a moment when we drove around on August 14, Independence day, on top of an SUV which was live streaming on Facebook and we had a lot of fun. Everything was a lot of fun including riding on dirt bikes in Baddomalhi and hanging out with the people. Besides getting sick at one point, I had a lot of fun the entire trip.
A: Were there any stereotypes of Pakistan/Pakistani’s that became a reality?
J: The hospitality was overwhelming and also the lack of personal space. It was like every day was a family reunion and compared to my own culture, our families don’t see each other that often as we’re much closer to our friends. Being over there, it was like a family reunion every day which was great. It was interesting because I knew what to expect as I know so many Pakistani’s so it wasn’t as big of a culture shock as if someone would have just gone with no knowledge. It was funny seeing all my friends asking me what was going to happen to me in Pakistan. One week before I went to Pakistan, I was in Montreal performing and people asked where I was going next, and I said I was going to Pakistan to do a tour. People were asking, “Oh, are you performing for the troops?” And I was just thinking that are there even troops there like what are you talking about and they were just very confused. Actually, there was one lady from LA, a Hollywood agent, and she asked like dead serious, when I go over and perform in Pakistan, how am I going to be able to tell the woman are laughing? And I remember thinking – What in the world do these people think Pakistan is? You know they just assumed that every woman wore a burqa or something. Their seeing and perception of Pakistan are off. I actually have a separate news app on my phone for Pakistani news. It’s very different from what we see in the news here, the news in the US just states that “Oh there was a bomb today”. People know about Pakistan from watching Homeland, which is a universally hated show in Pakistan. They’re like “Pakistan is not like Homeland” and I didn’t know a TV show could be that hated.
A: Where does your inspiration come from for your jokes?
J: It comes from anything that happens to me in any interactions, anything I hear about. I get a lot of material by interacting with people online – people talk and send messages hence some interaction comes out.
A: What words have you learned in Urdu?
J: *Laughs* It was weird when I got there, it took several days before I realized what “Kaise Ho” meant. Whenever I met people in Pakistan, I thought they were saying “guess who”. Like after saying, Salaam, I was wondering why they were saying “guess who”. It was 5 days before I asked – what are you talking about? *Laughs* Other words I learned were ‘shukriyah, theek hai, accha’ – very basic stuff. It was weird being there when people were talking in Urdu they would slip in some English words and I was trying to figure out what they were saying. It would just be like ‘blah blah blah Jeremy blah blah blah’ and I was just like uhh what’s going on? But I am trying to learn Urdu. I have to as everyone’s talking in Urdu in my comments and I don’t know if they’re angry or what.
A: What do you think are misconceptions people have of Muslims/Pakistan?
J: I mean like with Pakistani’s the biggest misconception people have is that it’s all tribal areas. Their perception is from Homeland – that it’s full of violence and if you’re Christian they’ll kill me. The blasphemy laws are weaponized like someone hates you so they accuse you of blasphemy and try to get you into trouble – mostly in rival businesses. I talked to lots of Christians and it’s fine, they like it. Misconceptions people have about Muslims in the US is that no one seems to understand how diverse the community is. They don’t understand what Muslims are like and assume that two Muslims just argue about religion. They are overall extremely diverse, ideologically and racially, and people don’t realize that.
A: Did you feel safe in Pakistan?
J: I felt safe the whole time except drinking the unfiltered water from the hotel. We had everything we were supposed to have like having locals take us around everywhere and not overdue on security because it would draw too much attention so we didn’t have a caravan take us places. As far as maintaining security we didn’t tell anyone where we were going to be – simple stuff that I do even in the US you know, I have my own security to feel safe. The state department actually told us to not go out on Independence day but we went out anyways.
Okay, friends. Here it is. The hotel we stayed at in Islamabad was the Hotel Margala on Kashmir Highway. Our entire…
A: Because some of your jokes are politically driven – do you get hate?
J: Yeah sure I get a lot of that, even from people misunderstanding my jokes. If you’re a politician you want most people to like you and that’s how most people think. If there is one person who hates me then that’s a big danger and I think that’s how God made us you know with evolution. Even throughout history if someone hated you they could kill you, our brains are wired to pay attention to that so you don’t get injured. As an artist you’re not trying to get 51 percent of people to like you – you want people to love you and you really just want a fan base. If 99 percent of America hated me and 1 percent loved me, it’s enough if that 1 percent sent me 10 dollars a year and I would be a multimillionaire. You’re not trying to please everyone, as long as you’re being true to yourself and speak your mind. The trick is finding an audience that receives well and with social media, you can find that audience. You don’t have to try and reach just a local audience with comedy. If you’re trying to appease social media you can reach who likes you and it becomes like a shortcut.
A: What city in Pakistan do you still want to see?
J: Karachi, obviously! I went with my friend Sultan to do medical mission trips in Islamabad and that was basically the center of my trip. I was just doing charity work with Sultan and his family is from Lahore so we went there before and after the trip to Islamabad and set up shows throughout. Everyone in Karachi was angry, telling me I didn’t get good biryani and got fed donkey in Lahore. But yeah, I would also like to see the northern areas and hopefully take my wife next time.
Here's my friend Sultan's write up about the charitable part of our trip to Pakistan! Please read and share!
We, at TMO, would like to thank Jeremy for taking the time to chat with us!
Keep up with Jeremy McLellan on social media below: