Muslim and Metaverse Humor, Live From Karachi
On May 31st, a Shiite in Pakistan performed stand-up comedy for a live audience in a post-apocalyptic landscape known as The Wasteland. Though he's known to take on many avatar forms, this time Orionalation Carver appeared as a humanoid chimp, which seemed appropriate to the venue, considering the several rust-caked robots and assorted desert denizens who came to catch his act. And though it may seem like an odd setting to regale audiences with sardonic riffs on grim topics like suicide bombers, burkas, and Saddam Hussein, it's probably the best stage for Carver. There are no comedy clubs in Karachi, Pakistan, for one thing; for another, some of his edgier material isn't likely to play as well in his home town. It's also a chance to tweak negative stereotypes about Muslims and Pakistanis in front of an international audience, in a setting that defies them.
In real life a reporter for Dawn News, Orionalation stumbled upon Second Life by accident, and then by another happenstance, realized he could pursue his stand-up comedy career here, too.
"[I]t was by fluke that i came across a stand-up comedy club," he tells me. Much like live music in Second Life, comedians use the VOIP software in SL to perform their routines in-world, though audience feedback is generally confined to the typing of "LOL", and if they're lucky, an audio sample of a chuckle. (This video from the May 31st show will give you a sense of the dynamic.)
Orionalation did an open mic at Second Life's Last Laugh club, and came away with enough audience tips and feedback to think he could turn metaverse comedy into his regular vocation.
"I get on average a 20 to 25 people crowd," he says, "and end up making around 1800 to 2000 [Linden] bucks a show." (About USD$7, at market rates-- not a bounty in most parts of the developed world, but a healthy amount in Second Life. Or for that matter, Pakistan.) His country's broadband is sub-par, making Second Life extra laggy; the embedded voice software, however, is excellent. "Even when I am lagging, my voice is unhindered Carver: my shows are completely real-time." (Given the time zone differences between him and his mainly Western audience, however, he's apt to perform nightclub comedy in the morning while still in his pajamas.)
His show usually starts with Daily Show-style send-ups of the international news. (Educated in the US, his take on the latest elections news is usually, painfully on target.) He often veers into subjects closer to home, like terrorism and Islamic extremism. (Karachi is where fellow journalist Daniel Pearl was savagely murdered by Al Qaeda.)
"Part of my goal is to show that the average Pakistani is as sick and full of hate for Islamic radical extremists as anyone," he says to me, "maybe even more so.
"Of course," he adds, "I then make fun of the U.S. government and the invasion of Iraq as well... so y'know."
In Pakistan, he sometimes performs for college crowds and corporate audiences, and they tend to get uncomfortable when he mocks extremist Muslims. "It's not like they are pro-terrorism, it's just they are uncomfortable making fun of it or of me mentioning religion in any context (most Pakistanis will joke about religion in private but not in public.)" Being in Second Life gives him an opportunity to fully unload, in scabrous terms that most Western comedians would hesitate to use. Not Orionalation.
"I can say things others might be too PC to say," he tells me. "I can
call Saudi Wahabism misogynistic and racist without fear of being called
intolerant, and then there is my tendency to turn stereotypes on their head. I address the common misconceptions about
Sometimes, of course, he has to deal with the audience's own stereotypes directed at him. "I've been heckled a few times, someone called me a terrorist, someone called me a dirty Indian and 'apu' but nothing i can't deal with." One woman came up after the show and politely inquired if Pakistanis had sex.
Besides his chimp, and the many other avatars you'll find on his blog, Bring the Funny, you're likely to see him as a proper English gentlemen. "I am quite enamored with the steampunk aesthetic," he explains. "I think its a hold over from being colonized by the Brits until 60 years back...a lot of Pakistani old architecture is very Victorian. And when I found Babbage here I fell in love with the steampunk look like I didn't expect." Now that he's an established Resident of Second Life, he's incorporating humor that's topical to this digital nation of the mind, where old borders are constantly redrawn.
"I find it funny," Orionalation Carver tells me. "A Pakistani comedian from Karachi dressed as a Victorian automaton performing comedy in a virtual world for an international audience... if that's not the future I don't know what is."
Mixed reality image courtesy of Sami Shah.