Moin Akhtar: Laughter through genius

Published: April 23, 2011

Moin Akhtar showed me comedy required performance.

Making people laugh is serious business. Moin Akhtar taught me that when I was six-years-old.

He was performing live at a family wedding I was being forced to attend (at that age you are forced to do pretty much everything). I remember being quite thrilled that the man who makes me laugh on TV was there in real life, performing on stage.

Positioning myself right in front, I got to watch him transform from character to character with just a well aimed hunch of the shoulder or lilt of the accent, all with rapid fire ability. His big closer for the night was acting like the singer of a hit pop song who gets more and more exhausted by his own success as the audience keeps forcing him into an encore. By the end, the song’s lyrics are whimpered and the singer is full of bitterness and pain.

My family was hysterical with laughter, barely being able to gasp out the demands that the ‘singer’ perform “Once more! Once more!”

I, however, was horrified. Utterly believing the character being portrayed, I felt sorry for him and began to add my own, more sympathetic, cry to the crowd’s. “No more!” I yelled, “No more!”

I just wanted the poor singer to get a moment’s respite.

In retrospect, I also clearly wanted to be noticed for my compassion and appreciated for it (a mix of sincerity and egotism that all but guaranteed me my own future in comedy). For a brief moment though, quick as a whisper, Moin Akhtar broke character, crouched down and told me,

“Don’t worry beta, it’s all an act.”

Then, before anyone else caught that moment between us, he was back up, whimpering and mewling as his character responded to the crowds hungry needs.

My mind was blown. Comedy, he showed me, required performance. It demanded an annihilation of ego. It also, most importantly, asked for commitment. It didn’t matter if you were on stage at a television show where the audience was there to laugh, or at a wedding where they had grudgingly torn themselves away from the food line. All that mattered was that you got them to laugh with you, at you and for you. Moin Akhtar, instantly became, for me, the coolest human being alive.

And now he is no more.

Except, how can anyone who has given us hundreds of hours of archival footage of himself, ever be gone. I am not going to extol the virtues of his numerous television appearances. If you haven’t seen his mastery of the comedic craft before then you will over the next few days on every TV channel, Facebook status update and YouTube link. You don’t need me to tell you he was hilarious, inspiring and gifted. Just know this: every comedian performing today that you love and laugh at, every impersonator who makes you guffaw with their manipulation of a stereotype, all of them come after Moin Akhtar. They are his students and his fans and followers. His innate understanding of comedic timing is the reason so many try to make you laugh. They all saw the effortless way in which he made us all forget our life’s problems as we exhaled loud laughter and wanted to learn to do the same.

Charlie Chaplin once said, “Anyone can make them cry. It takes a genius to make them laugh.” Moin Akhtar was a prodigy who understood his talent and used it to the fullest of its ability. So don’t disrespect his memory by crying over his passing. Instead, use this opportunity to revisit his genius and laugh instead.


Sami Shah

Sami Shah

The writer is a standup comedian and columnist for The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • TightDhoti

    He will be sorely missed. Recommend

  • Rida

    I wish I saw more of his stuff when he was younger. They are showing some black and whte clips on TV and they are hilarious. I feel like he was a man that defined Pakistani televisio culture. His comedy wasn’t below the belt. Slapstick enough to be approachable but smart enough to be challenging.
    Is that kind of comedy possible today.
    H was classy and classless,
    A legend,Recommend

  • Madiha Akhtar

    May his soul rest in peace- a void that can never be filled… Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    I think it will be one of those rare blog where people will not disagree or taunt at one another but come together, all because of passed comedian who’s acts created ripples of humor in his lifetime and gave sense of irreparable loss after the curtain of life has closed.

    May Allah bless him for his best deeds and forgive him. AAminRecommend

  • Ali Khurshid

    that one line sums it all up.Recommend

  • junaid

    the legend departssame feelings…..some people are an institution in themselves…he was among the pioneers who ultimately formed the driving force of PTV and its quality drams as we know it today..a gr8 comedian ,rare staristist,humble person and virtual lyfe of the arts community,,,,,,the space you have created sir shall take ages to be fulfilled….may ur soul rest in peace!.:”(((Recommend

  • Mina

    I am so saddened with this news. I have alwasy loved Moin Akhter’s performance since I was a child. I have attended his concerts abroad in which he was a host. He really had an art of occupying his audiences. May his soul rest in peace. Recommend

  • Said Chaudhry

    A sad day for Pakistan. May Mr Moin Akhtar RIP and the heavens bless him for making so many people laugh. Nice tribute Sami. Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Sami….some people leave behind laughter and love in their death. Rest in Peace Moin Akhtar. You will greatly be missed.

    I hope the heavens are ready for a serious dose of laughter :)Recommend

  • Tahir Jamal

    Unbeleiveable… Its a big shock of our people and Pakistan, there is no replacement like Legend Moin Akhtar Bhai.
    (ALLAH Moin Bhai ko Jannat-ul-Firdous ata farmaiey aur inke darjaat bulan kare “AAMEEN”)Recommend

  • Irfan Khan

    May Allah (SWT) shower his blessings & mercy on departed sould. He was indeed a great artist with rare talent and wonderful human being – we will for sure miss him.Recommend

  • Muhammed Salman

    A sad day for South Asia, as he was both popular in Pakistan, India and all south asian living all over the world.
    I used to say in my family that if Oscar is the benchmark of any artist, he truly desrve one though he had not acted in many films and if “SIR” is given to a person who has done lot for the Society. He should be called SIR MOIN AKHTAR, for he gave us the laughter all of his live when most of the people feel depressed because of our country’s situation.

    May ALLAH forgive his SINS and give place in Jannat-ul-Firdous.


  • Asim

    Moeen Akhtar made millions of us laugh. We are lucky as Pakistanis to be able to call him our own … truly a great legend.Recommend

  • Tanzeel

    Rest in peace Moin Akhter — We will miss you. Recommend

  • Qazi Fazli Azeem

    I have been to other countries in south asia, and everywhere that urdu and hindi / hindustani are spoken and used, Moin Akhtar is a household name. I hope that the children and younger generation gets the opportunity to see recordings of his shows and programs. I was fortunate to see him perform live, and saw the intense focus and preparation he put into his acts, before he went up to the stage, and even during the lunch breaks, he was constantly thinking and trying to improve the script, as he loved doing spontaneous and extempore performances. This is something that even Anwar Maqood has said about Moin, his genius in adapting to crowds and taking the script further. He did this in an excellent manner, during the ‘media control’ that went on during military dictator Zia’s reign, when artists were under watch and excessively censored on PTV (the only state run channel, in fact, the only channel) that we had access to in the 80’s. I hope that his colleagues, fellow actors and the people of this country honor his legacy by holding memorial services and giving public statements. Recommend

  • Saad

    Nice Article ! You spoke my heart ! Recommend

  • Jellyman

    A brilliant article Sami. One that truly honors a legend. A personal touch and a feeling of warmth over powers you when you read it. May a legend like Moin Akhtar live on in our hearts forever. Perhaps the biggest tragedy in all of this is how we lost such a man in our most darkest of hours, when this nation needs laughter the most.Recommend

  • Saad H

    Great tribute! He was an amazing person as well as a brilliant performer. May he rest in peace, Ameen.Recommend

  • Saleem Ahmed Khan

    Death of Moin Akhter is a great loss for the people of Pakistan. No one can think that Moin will leave us in tears and alone. Performence of Moin Akhter will be remembered for years. He was an asset for the country. Allah give courage to his family to bear this irreperable loss. Recommend

  • Saddam Siddiqui

    Sshh!! Silence Please, The legend is now LOOSE TALKING with Almighty :(Recommend

  • Umair J

    Sami! You’re in blogs section FINALLY! Now give us the real dirty stuff, not toned down oped writing! welcome!Recommend

  • Asma Anjum

    Long time back I did one TV show YES SIR NO SIR with MOIN AKHTAR ever since his pleasent and charismatic personality was carved in my memory.News of his sad demise came as a shock and the feeling was so immense as if I’ve lost someone very close.

    MOIN AKHTAR DIED (may GOD rest his soul in peace)

  • ahsan

    @Madiha Akhtar:

  • Nazzia Momina

    This is the best tribute to the iconic Moin Akhter. Really heartfelt. Recommend

  • Maleeha Khan

    a very big loss!!! may his soul rest in peace Ameen!Recommend

  • Zara Saleem

    I miss him already. May his soul rest in peace,Recommend

  • Amer

    Memories of watching him on tv are some of the best of all of our childhoods and the 80s & 90s. I always felt a sense of pride in being identified as a Pakistani when I saw Moin Akhtar on tv. Somehow his performances generated new waves of patriotism in my family living away from Pakistan. May Allah bless his soul and give him a high place in Jannah. Ameen. Recommend

  • Shahbaz Younis

    Another legend has passed away….. May Allah keep his soul to rest in peace, and give strength to his family to bear this loss. AminRecommend

  • zonaisha

    may ALLAH keep his soul to rest in peaceRecommend

  • maryam

    may ALLAH bless youRecommend

  • jsherazee

    “Moin Akhtar was a prodigy who understood his talent and used it to the fullest of its ability. So don’t disrespect his memory by crying over his passing. Instead, use this opportunity to revisit his genius and laugh instead.”

    Well said Sami… i couldnt agree with you more!Recommend