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Bengali Brothers hit the Comedy High Notes on YouTube

MEET brothers Ali and Shaheen – YouTube’s newest breed of Asian comedians. Armed with a camera, the duo’s comedy sketches and video rants about the Bengali culture have earned them a legion of fans. With 15,000 subscribers, over 2 million upload views and a starring role in Channel 4’s recent Ramadan Season, there’s no doubting these guys are the real deal. The Asian Today caught up with one half of the duo, Ali for a quick chat…

 

Ali, how did the YouTube journey begin for you?

At weddings and family gatherings, I was always that annoying guy with a camera who filmed everything. I’d make random videos on my phone with friends fooling around and my laptop was filled with clips of me and my brother messing about.

When I discovered YouTube, I thought this would be a fun platform to upload videos for friends to see. Eventually, these random videos we made we’re getting hits in the thousands. We we’re baffled! We had no script, no purpose or any idea of how “YouTubers” were meant to make videos. Furthermore, everything was filmed on a low quality webcam, so there was no sense of professionalism at all. Yet somehow, weirdly enough, I guess that’s what kind of sold it. Two brothers just being themselves, made it entertaining for others to watch.

As the popularity increased, so did our confidence, enabling us to dabble with both scripted and spontaneous ideas, ranging from serious to comedic videos, categorised into different genres. Now with over 15,000 subscribers and 2 million views, it’s been one heck of a journey with so many great memories.

 

Most people don’t really get on with their little brothers – how do you end up with him as your comedy partner?

Me and my younger brother distort the stereotype of sibling conflict and I’m really not sure why that is. We’re always joking around, making each other laugh and love each other to bits. He won’t admit that last one, but I know he does. I hope! We’re so close, we have sleepovers in each other’s rooms, despite the fact we live in the same house! I personally think he’s mature for his age and I’m immature for mine, so we both kind of meet in the middle, sharing a similar sense of humour that helps us bond together.

Our relationship is no different off-camera than it is on-camera. Those voices and impressions we do in our videos, we do even when nobody is around. In that sense, there’s no gimmick, you get what you see. I’ve not known it any other way. Either my brother just happens to be my comedy partner or my comedy partner just happens to be my brother, I’m still deciding which way it should be…

 

How long have you been uploading your videos on YouTube?

First video was uploaded on 29th April 2011, so it’s been about two and half years. The reason I remember that date so well, is because that day was the Royal Wedding.

All over TV, social media and real life, the Royal wedding was all people were talking about. To be honest, me and my little brother weren’t really interested, mainly because the Royal family forgot to invite us… So instead, we uploaded our first ever video that day on YouTube and since then we haven’t stopped. Now that I think about it, if it wasn’t for the Royal wedding, we probably wouldn’t have uploaded that video. I guess we do kind of owe it to Prince William and Kate Middleton. Still, we should have got an invite!

 

What type of response have you had to the videos?

We’ve been fortunate enough to see so much love and support from people, it’s surreal! We get all kinds of amazing responses from people all over the world saying how much they like our videos. I think it’s the emotional ones which really grab my heart. I’ve received messages where people express how they’re going through some sort of pain or trauma, but our videos have made them smile and brightened up their world for that split-moment. One of the greatest feelings is to make someone laugh or to make their day or to make them feel better. I’m incredibly grateful that I’m in a position where I am able to do that.

 

Your comedy has a specific Bengali twist on it – do you think British Bengali’s are generally ignored by more mainstream Asian comedians?

I don’t think “ignored” is the correct word. Most Asians who have made it in the mainstream happen to be of Indian or Pakistani heritage, so it’s natural for them to bring their own language and tradition into it, be that Urdu dialogue in a British Asian film or Punjabi lyrics in a Bhangra song. It would be unfair to expect a non-Bengali to represent Bengali culture. That’s like asking an Irish man to represent Scottish identity. I think there’s two way to look at it. Either the industry doesn’t see a demand to represent British-Bengali culture, or there simply aren’t enough Bengali actors, comedians or entertainers to supply that demand. Whatever the issue may be, being a British-Bengali myself, who’s made comedy out of Bengali culture, I’ve got videos with over a 100,000 views on those very Bengali videos. Initially, I didn’t used to add subtitles to the Bengali videos – mainly because I was lazy and adding subtitles takes ages – but then I’d get tons of comments from non-Bengalis requesting translations. So, I then supplied that demand. Now every Bengali video that goes out, has English subtitles. I now get messages from people of other ethnicities commenting on how similar or different their culture is to the Bengali one. This proves two things. Firstly, there definitely is a lot of Bengalis out there, secondly there’s also interest from the outside in, so the culture and language is palatable. Having said that, if some big Hollywood director is reading this and looking for a Bengali actor, I’m only a call away…

 

You featured on a number of episodes in Channel 4’s recent series, Ramadan Season – how did that come about?

The whole Channel 4 series came through the YouTube itself. A casting producer saw our videos and e-mailed me saying how she loves the bond me and my brother have and wanted us to feature in a Channel 4 documentary. At first, I thought the whole thing was bogus, until I searched the women up, realising she had her own IMDB page and had worked on programmes that I’ve seen on TV myself! After I realised this was for real, the emails turned to calls, calls turned to meetings, meetings turned to contracts and boom! Next thing I know, I’m in a Channel 4 studio filming adverts for a Ramadan programme and see myself on TV the following week. Throughout that month, it was a mixture of the camera crew filming us and us sending them footage back for daily episodes of the series. All in all, it was a great experience, we had so much fun with it and it definitely made me want to get involved in more TV work.

 

How have your friends reacted to your videos? And your family – do you have their backing?

My friends have been so supportive throughout every move of our journey and I’ve also made so many new friends through YouTube itself. It’s funny, initially I never told my parents about the videos, because I didn’t really think it was anything special. Eventually, the views started increasing so much, I had aunties who I didn’t even know existed, who would call up my mum and tell her how much they love our videos. Of course, when the whole Channel 4 thing kicked off, that’s when they knew it was getting serious and they were so proud. My dad’s restaurant actually got to feature in one of the episodes, so he was over the moon!

 

What’s next for your guys?

So much is in the pipeline, we now have a second YouTube channel dedicated to blogs, a clothing line ready to be launched, tons of new sketches and rants and I’m also in talks with a few projects outside of the YouTube bracket. So there’s a lot to look forward to. I just hope the amazing people who have been supporting us, continue to do so and realise that we are forever grateful for the love and respect they show. Words cannot express. Thank you!

 

Watch Ali and Shaheen in action at www.youtube.com/AliOfficial1. You can also follow the boys on Twitter: @AliOfficial1

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