Is this the funniest stand-up comedian in East Africa?

Tanzanians aren’t funny. My roommate in campus was a Tanzanian. His mates would fill our small room, cracking these jokes and cackling like hyenas. I didn’t get them. Plus all the jokes were in Kiswahili sanifu. Who tells a joke in Kiswahili sanifu? However, when Tanzanians sing you feel your soul sit up. It’s like someone walking around a dark house, switching on the lights as they go. Music that lights you up.

Talking of music. Over in Uganda music is woven into their fabric. You can smell it in the air like you can smell impending rain. It’s always hanging there, like moisture. Unlike us they aren’t embarrassed of their local tongue, so they sing in it, and it feels authentic and honest. But are they funny? What brand of humour have they exported across the borders? With her huge fan base, even here in Kenya, I find Kansiime tiresome.

Enter Kenya. Cool old Kenya. The kid in the playground who everyone crowds around. Him with the fancy pencils.

You would imagine we would have lots of stellar standup comedians, but, surprisingly, stand-up comedy in Kenya is a non-starter. It’s held together by a tedious Band-Aid of tribal stereotypes and silly accents. It has refused to move on from the ridiculous circus attire that it continues to prop itself on. Our comedians have become caricatures of the jokes they tell. The material we sell as stand-up comedy has become humdrum.

Which Kenyan stand-up comedian is hilarious? Let’s go: Churchill. Churchill was only funny when he was hungry. Chipukeezy? His gaudy yellow suit is slowly replacing his humour. That guy who makes fun of Kalenjins? Almost amusing. Eric Omondi. Lots of potential but only if he spent more time with his material. His brother, Fred? Should stop hanging out with the wolves or he will howl the same way. Teacher Wanjiku. Was funny for five days then flew too close to the sun. Mtumishi guys? A Luhya choir with ashen knees. Sleepy? Your answer is in the name.

Then there are the other comedians, slapping and sticking, and picking a leaf from that old book of humour that should be locked up in a museum

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of forgotten art. Nobody wants to venture further, to get material that is unique, fresh and different. Nobody dares.

What stand-up comedy in Kenya is experiencing is comic erectile dysfunction; it starts off strong with mirth, but grows flaccid in no time.

I was in Mauritius the whole of last week, courtesy of MultiChoice that was showcasing its content to some 85 journalists from all over Africa. The final night was a huge party thrown by MTV Base with a comedy hour sponsored by Comedy Central Channel 122, who invited two acts to perform. If you watch Comedy Central you realize we aren’t even a blip in the wider radar of stand-up comedy.

The first act was a comedian from South Africa called Kagiso. A lanky man. The moment he showed up on stage in suspenders, scraggly beard and geek spectacles I knew there was no way he was going to be funny. I have this theory that stand-up comedians who spend more time on their attire, will have most likely spent less time on their material. Clown costume for what? This isn’t Halloween. A loud costume is noise that drowns out good content.

And Kagiso was loud. Literally. He shouted in the mic. His material was grimy. He landed more “fuck” and “shit” than he landed punch lines. And the room paid him back by becoming more disinterested as his rants raged on. He drew a few laughs at the beginning, but things slowly went tits up as he pursued a narrative of deflated punch lines that drew blank, pained stares.

Even his sex jokes were too naked, too unshaven. At some point he gathered enough chutzpah to take a stab at Mandela’s death, and thankfully came out unharmed. That was impressive, though. Ballsy. But the night wasn’t his and upon realizing this truth, he tried lobbing some desperate flaccid jokes at the crowd, which were duly ignored. The crowd had moved on. Conversations become louder at the back of the room even as he shouted in the mic, “All right, all right, I know you want me to get off the stage you bastards…”

Stand-up comedy is ruthless. Making people laugh in a room is a daunting task. A dead crowd is a scary crowd. Finally the potty mouth threw in the towel and introduced some comedian from Uganda called “Salvado”. Never heard of him, but the clutch of Ugandan media in the room cheered riotously.

I honestly didn’t think he would hack the diverse demographic in that room. I knew he would embarrass us East Africans.

He stealthily walked up to the stage wearing a goofy smile, dramatically surveying the crowd as if surprised at it’s size, and telling Kagiso who had introduced him as “this next motherfucker” that he isn’t a “motherfucker” (hehe) in that Ugandan accent that they use to call clothes “Clothez.” Salvado had that everyday-people face. Seemed like the guy you would ask to watch over your drink in a bar so you can dart into the men’s.

“I have never stood in a room with so many white people,” he opened the gambit, “I feel like Obama.” Kakaka! Crowd laughed and he was off to the races. Here is the thing with Salvado; he was not just hilarious, he was hysterical. Every joke was delivered with the right punch. Laughter drowned the room. Everything – tables, chairs – floated in this mirth. You laughed so hard and even before you could recover you actually feel another one building up under

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your shoes, like a seismic wave.

His material was fresh, clever and delivered with a hidden smile. I laughed until I teared up. Even when he was making Ugandan jokes, he still managed to make everybody relate. From a certain point on the room succumbed and conspired to make him funnier. You could feel the room root for him, this chubby-ish, largely unknown man from Uganda.

At some point he made the cardinal mistake of telling a stolen joke. For a comedian, stealing a joke that is already online is like borrowing someone else’s boxers. This level of callous laziness for a man of his immense talent astonished me. Salvado, if you are reading this, that joke about Indians and them giving a discount on time isn’t yours, my brother. Don’t set that precedence.

He had some sex jokes too, and everybody loves a funny sex joke, but the difference is that he wasn’t too explicit. The thing with sex jokes is that you have to let the audience imagine the more gritty imagery, unless you are performing to a group of virgins.

When he got off the stage, to a standing ovation, I wondered as I wiped my tears away, if we were to put one of our own comedians up on a multicultural stage like that, would they be able to crack it?

I pictured the Mtumishi guys singing their hearts out, and an American chap turning to a French chap and asking, “By the way, did they ever make a sequel of The Gods Must be Crazy?”

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28 Comments
  1. Hahaha, Biko yawa! About the ” tedious Band-Aid of tribal stereotypes and silly accents” I kind of understand, You know Kevin Hart and the rest make jokes on Black Culture, Trevor Noah makes the SA accent all the time, Russel Peters jokes on his Indian Origins. But I get your point though!

    1. Trevor Noah actually makes jokes to suited to his audience. Check out his american, uk and australian tours, you would think he lived there

  2. “What stand-up comedy in Kenya is experiencing is comic erectile
    dysfunction; it starts off strong with mirth, but grows flaccid in no
    time.”

    That, my friend, was devastating. You have some real Talent

  3. Spot on Biko. i stopped watching Churchill like 2 years ago!…plus i prefer witty non obvious humor so probably that’s my problem…but you made me laugh so hey..you could try being a comedian

  4. ubaya for us Kenyans we love everything foreign and love to bash anything ‘local’ however promising! and when this happens there is also a bandwagon of riotous cheering squad who creme with ignorance of ‘local’…read, that they rarely make it to a local show…only good at reading and quipping blogs that will feel ‘cool’…I wonder when was the last time any of this ‘foreign’ kenyans watch ‘local’ without feeling ‘local’? and why this comedians are now in glam? vanity? why they manage to go abroad and be celebrated? if I invite this Biko Zulu guy to watch ‘local’ comedy he will definitely plant excuses in Timbuktu, whereas if I invite Salvado…..weeellll!!

    kwa kweli nyani haoni kundule!!!

    1. Dude, there is nothing wrong with Kenyans for being tired of stale jokes. You fail to appreciate that the local comedians became household names because the local Kenyans were their biggest fan base until they ran out of creativity and started doing the same acts over and over again. They are celebrated abroad because it is new material for the poor guys abroad but tired material locally. Just saying

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  5. Growing pains I say but true. Salvado gas a new follower now- me. Thanks to you. Have you had a chance to watch Trevor Noah in action? That young man is funny. Check him out and let us know what you think.

  6. I went to Night of a thousand laughs a month ago. Salvador, aka Salivador as his uncle calls him performed and I was on the floor. I laughed for tears! Chipukeezy, Eric O and his brother were there, and they were funnier than I have ever seen before. I donno why that is, but they were really good. Also hilarious was a guy called Mpho from SA. And of course Basket Mouth. Tears!!

  7. i agree with you that Kenyan comedy has hit a dead end.at home we would rather watch something else other than Churchill.And i also dont find Kansiime funny but the cool thing is she makes her pieces situational so that everyone can relate.
    Trevor Noah is actually good at his craft,because he studies his audience and even as he tells his jokes you learn something new.Check out his work,i loved Trevor Noah African American

  8. This last bit is too harsh…’I pictured the Mtumishi guys singing their hearts out, and an American chap turning to a French chap and asking, “By the way, did they ever make a sequel of The Gods Must be Crazy?” Nice read!

  9. I pictured the Mtumishi guys singing their hearts out, and an American chap turning to a French chap and asking, “By the way, did they ever make a sequel of The Gods Must be Crazy? lol this one has really got me.

  10. Before i finish reading, “…i think he will embarrass us East Africans”. Noooo….we are Kenyans and Salvado is Ugandan. U said when they called out his name “…the clutch of Ugandan media cheered riotously” you dint say clutch of East African Media….very unfair Biko….very unfair

  11. I thought I was the only one spending sleepless nights suffering and worrying about how “un-funny” our Kenyan comedians are. I won’t mention Kansiime; she’s sickening! Thanks a lot for shinning your light on these “mega-talented comedians”.

  12. There was time Salvado came on Churchill and he totally killed it. He embarrassed our local comics. Very funny and intelligent.

  13. I slightly, No!, completely disagree with you biko.
    Some comedians are really good. Our support will bring excellence..