Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Profile: SA comedian Halal Bilal

Bilal Randeree aka Halal Bilal is nothing short of a trailblazer. With a career, travel adventures and several comedy shows under his belt, Halal is certainly an inspiration for young people the world over. Desi Kid caught up with this zealous individual:

What was it like growing up in a small town like Newcastle (situated in Northern KwaZulu-Natal)?

It was physically strenuous - I had to climb a massive mountain, swim a raging river and navigate through a wild bush just to get to school - or at least that’s what I tell people who ask this question! Newcastle is not that small - growing up there is like growing up anywhere else.

I have loads of siblings - 6 brothers and 2 sisters - so in short, you definitely learn many lessons simply by having amazing parents that can not just manage so many kids, but do a fairly decent job of it! I remember having fun, learning and fighting a lot – ‘coz that's how boys grow up in small towns like Newcastle...

How did you discover a talent for comedy?

I fell into comedy by mistake - I was working with Islamic Relief and Riaad Moosa (the funniest man in SA!) to arrange the Allah Made Me Funny (AMMF) fundraising show for orphans. During the run up for the show I somehow found myself on stage and, with the support of Riaad and the AMMF guys from US, the rest is history!

Your message to aspiring artists?

The message I would like to share, is the important message that I was given - comedy, like the internet, television, radio, music, poetry and many other forms of art and expression, are tools - tools that can be used to spread good or bad. Be confident, sincere and try to use your skills, talent or just plain nerve to encourage and spread good messages. I have seen how much of an impact on the youth a good comedian has with just a few minutes; compared to long, ill-prepared lectures!

Take us through your very first stand-up performance... the high points, the adrenalin, the ambience...

First show I did was at the Nino's in Lenz - Riaad Moosa was hosting the So you think you're funny show and I didn't find any of the other guys that funny, so thought I'd give it a shot.. Got my laughs and did a few more shows with Riaad on his Strictly Halaal tour.

Where have you performed since?

Performed in Jo’burg, Durban and Cape Town. Loads of gigs in London during my six months there. Recently did a gig at the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow conference in Doha, Qatar.

You recently performed at the Made in India comedy festival held at the ICC Durban. What was it like performing alongside some of the funniest Indians in the industry? Who are your 2 favourite Indian comedians?

The crowd was obviously very Indian, so it was good fun - always easy to make fun of Indians! The other comedians were really good and I enjoyed performing with them - I guess my favourite two would be Riaad Moosa and Russell Peters.

What do South African Indians bring to stand-up that other comedians ordinarily might not?

Dhal and rice:) All South African comedians are different from other comedians - comedy has played an important part in helping people move forward from our past.

What would you regard as being your greatest achievement thus far?

I am still struggling to achieve something great - pray that I do it in this life! Perhaps an achievement I would like to share with the hope of encouraging others is to have memorised the Qur'an. But also, I feel that my relationship with the Qur'an is still ongoing, and the achievement is reached only at the end of our lives - if I have lived according to the Qur'an, learned to understand and practise upon it, and to keep it close to me my entire life. I have had a few minor achievements so far though - like finishing matric, finishing university, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant (CA), and finally realising that as a Muslim, I have a greater role in life than just working to pay the bills.

How did the Muslim Professionals' Network (MPN) come about, and what is your involvement in it?

We started the MPN about 2 years ago and until now focused on Islamic finance and economics discussions. There has been a small team working on this since its inception. We have recently found new recruits and are extending our range of events and activities to support the needs of Muslim professionals in general.

You have just enrolled into a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism and Media Studies programme at Rhodes University for 2009. Where do you hope to take this?

As a CA, I wanted to sharpen my financial reporting skills and therefore decided to take up a course in economic journalism. Identifying the media as a powerful tool in altering perceptions, I identified a gap in the way reports on the current global economic meltdown are presented to the layperson. My endeavour is thus to hone my skills in financial reporting so as to be able to unpack the current financial crisis, its cause, solutions, and long-term effects in a manner that is accessible to the layperson.

Having travelled extensively throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world, what would you regard as your MOST memorable experience?

Loads of memorable experiences - will write a book or two about them someday! But the one that really stands out for me is my time spent in Kashmir, doing voluntary work at a hospital there. I could never forget the face of that child – the child who still smiled, despite suffering burns during an explosion in a refugee camp. I recall physically holding him down as the doctor cleaned his wounds. That marked a watershed in my life: it made me realise how much we take for granted; how complacent and plain darn selfish we can be. We have so much to offer to the world: all it takes is the right attitude and a clear purpose.

Your favourite place in the world?

I have many favourite places - the most recent place I lived in was Damascus and really miss it - hope to go back at some point and complete my studies of the Arabic language.


Desi Kid said...

Can you guess what Halal Bilal is saying to make the audience laugh in this photo taken of him performing live at The Watershed in London?