Speaker Exclusive: Interview with Zaid Ali

*Date published in Speaker Newspaper: 19 June 2015*

Islamic Help charity organisation and Ion Promotions came together to put on the fresh and contemporary United We Stand show at Manchester’s Hilton Hotel last Bank Holiday weekend, where globally famous nasheed artists performed alongside the popular Canadian YouTube star, Zaid Ali.  Louisa Butt catches up with the artists and writes about the event that raised £150,000 for the mothers and children of Syria. 

If you want to see a true example of a YouTube success story, look no further than this young Pakistani Canadian.  Zaid Ali has gained fans worldwide through his love of making comical videos that, what he likes to refer to as “brown people”, can relate to.  His YouTube channel has over 140,000 subscribers on which his videos have pulled over 30 million views – and it all started from his dad’s webcam five years ago.

The 19-year-old was born in Pakistan and lived there for nine years before moving to Canada, which is why it is no surprise that he is loved not only by the youth but their parents, too, as he speaks perfect Urdu in his videos – one of the things he is most famous and loved for.

But after speaking to Zaid, there is one surprising thing I noticed about him. All of the hilarious videos, fame and glamour aside, Zaid seems like a serious guy and not at all what you would expect him to be like after watching him entertain us through our computer screens.  This was somewhat endearing to see, as it made me realise that he takes his passion seriously and works hard, that his career is not just to make people laugh but to unite them and that there is a lot more to his work than meets the eye.

How did your YouTube career start?
“It’s actually a boring story, not as interesting as you’d expect it to be!  Five years ago, this guy in my gym class was partnering up with another YouTube channel to make videos.  I always had this inner thing where I wanted to do stuff in public but I had no platform to do it on.  So, I asked him if I could take part but he refused.

“I got mad, went home, opened my dad’s webcam and made my first video called “Why I hate Facebook” – it was really bad quality and I used the F word 85 times!  My videos were very vulgar when I first started, with a lot of swearing and horrible words.

“However, as time went by I realised that I want to create videos that people can watch with their parents, with clean humour.”

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
“Visiting Pakistan.  I didn’t know what to expect as I hadn’t been for five years but the people there were so loving and caring.  The meet and greet I attended in Lahore was so big, all the TV channels were there to cover it.  There were so many people there, that the venue couldn’t even fit that many people – apparently not even the major Pakistani drama actors get that much attention.  It was a milestone for me.”

Have you ever considered cracking the Hollywood, Bollywood or even Lollywood industry?
“I do want to go into Bollywood but not to make a stereotypical movie.  I want to star in a type of movie that Amir Khan makes, one with a message behind it. Yes, it would be Bollywood but it would need a message because a lot of my following is the youth and therefore I have a responsibility to make sure I’m influencing them in a good way.

“I recently rejected a Hollywood movie offer because it required me to do a kissing scene – I didn’t do it, regardless of how much money was offered, as it’s not my end goal which is to inspire the youth.”

What would you be doing now if you weren’t a YouTube star?
“That’s a tough one! I honestly don’t know.  I wanted to drop out of school when I was 17 and started making videos because I didn’t know what to do with my life or if education was right for me. But whatever I would’ve done, it would have been nowhere near as good as this opportunity, I’m grateful for where I am right now.”

Do you aim to tackle issues that young Asian people face living in the Western world?
“Not really in the Western world but in places like Pakistan and India, rape is a huge issue and females are disrespected. Even in our culture, when it comes to things like marriage, females aren’t given the rights they should be.  I’ve tried my best to shed on this issue through some of my videos and I will continue to throughout my career.”

What do you do in your spare time, away from your YouTube world?
“See, this is the thing, I don’t have a life outside of this! I’m at home on my computer all the time, I don’t like going out, even when I’m touring.  So, I live a pretty boring life but I’m grateful for it as I know many young guys who get influenced in a bad way when they have too much of a social life. So, it’s made me a better person.”

Who is your inspiration?
“Nouman Ali Khan and Junaid Jamshed.  Junaid Jamshed made a big sacrifice at an early stage of his career by letting go of all his music, towards the right path which I can relate to.  I started from making videos full of swearing to clean videos.

“Nouman Ali Khan really relates to the young audience, when he talks you really pay attention compared to when a lot of other scholars talk.”

Tell us something that we would be surprised to know about you.
“The fact that I’m 19 years old, a lot of people think I’m over 21! And the fact that I used the F word 85 times in my first video!”

Who would you like to collaborate with?
“Zayn Malik or Shahrukh Khan – I know that’s aiming too high!”

What advice would you give to young Asians who want to start a YouTube career?
“I would say don’t do it.  When I started there was nobody else doing it but there’s way too many people doing it now.  The quality isn’t there anymore because of the quantity.  Don’t enter the industry because you see a lot of people doing it, do what you like doing because it’s not as easy as it looks, it’s much harder than that. Don’t do it unless it’s your passion.”

What are your plans for the future and where do you aim to go with your career?
“At the end of the year or the start of next I want to do a lot in Pakistan and visit all the cities.  I don’t know how far or where I’m going to get with this, so we will find out as time goes by.”