Comedian and Youtuber Junaid Akram AKA Ganji Swag talks inspirations, struggles and more
Whatâ€™s the significance behind the title Ganji Swag and how did it come about?
So back in the day, Iâ€™m talking 2012-2013, I decided to get rid of my hair because I had a really bad receding hairline. My friendâ€™s girlfriend at the time used to call me Ganji Man just like Spiderman or Superman. Back then there used to be a lot of memes about swag like Swag Wali Topi etc. I used to tell her I have more swag than your boyfriend. This was our silly banter. One fine day, I decided to make an Instagram account. I was confused because Junaid Akram was already taken. I was with that same friend and he said why donâ€™t you go for Ganji Swag? Thatâ€™s the story. Back in the day I used to argue a lot on social media. When people had nothing left to say to me they would say, â€œoh youâ€™re a ganjaâ€. When you embrace something like that, I feel like it takes the power away from the trolls. So I thought I should go with Ganji Swag and thatâ€™s how it happened.
How did your journey as a comedian start?
I used to be the class clown. I was the friend who was always making every one else laugh. But there is a difference between being funny amongst friends and being funny on stage. There are a lot of people who arenâ€™t able to do both. I had a friend called Steve. Steve and I used to watch a lot of stand up comedy. Youtube was new back then. We were huge fans of Seinfeld and we would share observational comedy. So, Steve said why donâ€™t you give this a shot? He thought I had it in me. I thought about it for two years and then finally decided to do it. I found an open mic night. I went there and I did my set. It was great! I thought to myself, this is amazing. The crowd laughed at my jokes and it felt empowering. I kept doing stand up and from there I ventured into YouTube eventually.
Weâ€™ve heard that youâ€™ve struggled quite a bit in your journey. Youâ€™ve even waited tables. If you could meet that Junaid today, what would you say to him?
Yes, there has been a lot of struggle. But I guess Iâ€™m not the only one. A lot of people go through this. I guess itâ€™s situations like these that really prepare you for the future so Iâ€™m really grateful. When I used to do those jobs, I used to hate my life I would complain to God all the the time. But now that I look back, it all makes sense. I had to go through all of those hardships in order to be as thick in my skin as I am today. That allows me to be bold and be the way that I am today in my current line of work. So if I could say something to that Junaid, I would say the same thing that I used to say to myself back then, which is: itâ€™s only a speed breaker in my life. Itâ€™s only a chapter in my life. Itâ€™s not my whole life. Iâ€™m not going to be doing this my whole life. I have a lot of potential and all I need to do is wait. Sar jhuka ke kaam karo. Just wait it out and just be patient. Thatâ€™s with I used to pacify myself with. And I would say the same today. I was glad I was aware of the fact that this is only momentary. Thatâ€™s exactly how it played out.
What, in your opinion, are some of the drawbacks of being a comedian in Pakistan?
Lack of freedom, lack of acceptance. Not just being a comedian, I feel like being an artist in Pakistan, there are a lot of drawbacks. You arenâ€™t respected enough. People donâ€™t treat you nicely. But when thereâ€™s a lockdown, they canâ€™t survive without us either. Be it YouTube, be it Netflix, be it Spotify, artist ke baghair guzara bhi nahi hota lekin usko gaaliyaan bhi deni hain. So thereâ€™s a huge issue of acceptance. If I speak about comedians specifically, thereâ€™s a lack of freedom for sure in terms of the content that you can create or things you can talk about. Thereâ€™s only so much that happens in Pakistan. I also think you canâ€™t talk freely about politics or other institutions. Thereâ€™s really not much left to talk about. Anything can be construed into mockery even if youâ€™re just making a joke about something. Itâ€™s a very slippery slope that you have to tread upon. Itâ€™s not an easy job.
Who are your top 5 favourite comics?
This is a very difficult list to put together! But I guess Moin Akhtar Saab is on the top of the list. I really enjoyed Majid Jehangir. He is one of my heroes. A lot of people donâ€™t know about him. I guess people from my generation do but the younger ones donâ€™t. Internationally, I really enjoy Bill Murr and George Carlin.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Well, probably doing much bigger things. There are a lot of dreams that I have had way before I started my journey as a Youtuber. Thankfully, everything is falling into place. I wanted to expand my horizons and my expertise. So slowly but surely those things are happening. This year is going to be big because Iâ€™m making a drastic change in my pursuit of success and pursuit of doing wonderful things. Hopefully, I will have a childrenâ€™s show in the next five years because thatâ€™s an area that Iâ€™m really sentimental about. Sadly, there is no content for kids in Pakistan. So hopefully, I will have a channel dedicated to kids and science. I would be happy if Iâ€™m able to pull this off by then.
What question would you like to answer that never gets asked of you?
I donâ€™t think there has been a question that hasnâ€™t been asked. However, whenever Iâ€™m in a public space, a lot of people flock in to grab a selfie. Sometimes, I really wish they would just click one and be off. Or they can talk to me for five minutes and ask me how I am or how Iâ€™m doing but people donâ€™t really care about that. They just want their selfie and off they go. Sometimes I really want to talk to people. But that doesnâ€™t happen much. I would appreciate if people asked me genuinely, â€˜how are you feeling?â€™ And thatâ€™s something that people donâ€™t really think about.
Cancel culture has become very strong these days. People are very quick to judge and even the littlest things get celebrities in trouble. Does that pressure ever get to you? Are you now more careful about the jokes you make?
There are two sides to this question. First of all, yes the world has become very politically correct. Every morning when I wake up, I access my Facebook memories and see the kind of stuff I come across that I used to write ten years ago. It would never ever pass today. But then again those were different times. Evolving is good. I value that and I endorse that. We need to uneducat ourselves and re-educate ourselves about a lot of things. However, jumping on the bandwagon about every little thing is really toxic. A person is only responsible for what they say not for what people understand. Sometimes people misconstruct statements. Iâ€™m not really pressured about anything because Iâ€™m only responsible for what I say. Everyone has their own perception. I canâ€™t go up to every single person and explain to them what I meant at every occasion. People do what they want to do. However, being sensitive is something different. I wont make jokes that I did five years ago or ten years ago. I wont do that because Iâ€™m careful about peopleâ€™s sensitivities. But Iâ€™m not under any pressure because of these people. I understand what needs to be said and doesnâ€™t. If someone is going to create an issue out of every small thing, then thatâ€™s their issue not mine.
Do you have any regrets?
I donâ€™t think so. Iâ€™ve been very blessed Alhumdullilah. The only thing I would say is that I could have done a lot of things a lot earlier if only I had taken certain steps. But everything makes sense now. Everything takes itâ€™s sweet time so itâ€™s important not to rush into things. I have no regrets. I guess one has regrets when one doesnâ€™t want to sort things out. I believe in nipping things in the bud and not carrying things further. I work on regret minimization frame work so I take steps in life much earlier, so at 50 or 60 I donâ€™t look back and say, â€˜oh man I should have done thatâ€™. So I design my life around regret minimization framework. So I do those things that I wont regret in the future.
What do you like to do on days that youâ€™re not working?
I am working every single day. I am working even on my holidays. I just canâ€™t switch off. Thereâ€™s so much to share with people! Thereâ€™s so much to talk about. Even when Iâ€™m travelling or Iâ€™m on vacation with my family Iâ€™m always creating content. If I saw a chori foothpath I have to tell people, look how pedestrian friendly this road is abroad. I just want to communicate a lot of things to my audience so that their exposure also increases. Their minds open up. If they canâ€™t travel for whatever reasons like budget or covid, I want them to travel vicariously through me. Iâ€™m always working.
What advice would you give to people who look up to you and might be struggling to get a start in the industry?
I would say just do it and donâ€™t think too much. I donâ€™t mean start something without putting any thought into it at all. Work things out of course. But donâ€™t think about what people will say, what sort of comments will I get. Stop thinking about all that. The day I stopped thinking about what people will say my life was peaceful forever. It allowed me to take a lot of risks that I might have not taken if I cared about peopleâ€™s opinions. I ventured into this community and this field, I excelled and I expanded my business and now Alhumdulillah everything is great. I would say stop worrying about people and just do you. Do whatever you feel like doing, talk about whatever you feel like talking about. Put your content out there. Donâ€™t worry about whether you have equipment or not. For several years I just used my phone to make videos. Equipment will come itself eventually. Whatâ€™s important is content. If your message is good, if your timing is good, and its concise and agar apka message logon ke dilon ke taar hila deta hai thatâ€™s all you need. You donâ€™t need a red camera or any fancy stuff. Just be true to yourself. Be honest to yourself and your work. Donâ€™t think about earning money. Follow success. If you follow success, money will eventually follow but if you follow money, youâ€™ll never get it because money is number. And numbers never end.