LAUGH MERCHANTS: Local comedy is going through what the music industry has enjoyed for years. Every week that comes by, a comedy outfit is formed and in every new structure, bar or hotel trying to sell themselves to the market, a comedy night is set up. But the success is coming at the expense of creativity and morality, writes Andrew Kaggwa and Gabriel Buule.
In 2008, news started making the rounds that the Stand Up televised comedy franchise was coming to Uganda. Then, Ugandan comedy was starting to enjoy some attention thanks to groups such as Amarula Family, Theatre Factory that ran a weekly show at the National Theatre, drama groups that had made it a point to have comic relief in scripts and of course, the radio duo of Abby Mukiibi and Kato Lubwama.
But the genre of stand-up comedy had not been exploited as much that when the M-net produced Stand Up Uganda initially became a reality in 2009, many that love a good laugh thought Kenneth Kimuli alias Pablo was competing against himself.
Kimuli was part of the Theatre Factory and together, they hosted weekly shows that had even attracted the attention of a major TV station, this meant that he already had clout.
Stand Up Uganda gave us names such as Patrick ‘Salvador’ Idringi, Daniel Omara, Emmanuel Ssebakigye and Alex Muhangi; with Kimuli abandoning Theatre Factory for a one-man show and Idringi and friends setting up comedy nights, the genre registered itself on the social scene.
Over the years, the space for comedy performance has been becoming bigger, the industry has birthed stars that have eventually exceeded the stage to TV, Radio and social media sites. With all the available platforms, there have been a number of discovered new talent, all serving an always increasing demand.
Just last week, for instance, Kampala alone was a host of at least five comedy shows, four of which happened on the same day. The most shocking thing was that they all sold out sending pundits into questions whether comedy had eventually usurped music’s magic.
But then the question about the quality of laugh came in.
Earlier on, the question had been about comedians repeating jokes, but Muhangi, flanked by Omara had defended the act by noting that some days are bad that a comedian may find themselves trying out that old magic which usually saves the day. But then came the problem of tribal, misogyny and of course what many consider as vulgar jokes.
Praise Tuhaise recounts the day she attended a comedy show, for a better part of it, jokes paraded were about women from a specific tribe and their love for sex. Belonging to the said tribe, Tuhaise says she was irritated that she has not gone for another comedy show since.
But besides the sex and tribes, earlier this year, only days after the incident involving a security guard at a supermarket, amidist that tension, some comedy outfits had gone on to find comic and tribal relief in the scene. Richard Tuwangye, a comedian with comedy outfit Fun Factory, also famous for his onstage character Amos, an arrogant rich man from the west says that there a things about tribes that everyone knows and comedy can’t run away from.
“As a Munyankole, there are things I can say about my tribe and I will evoke laughter but regardless, there are some borders I can’t cross,” he says.
Salvador too notices that tribes are part of our DNA; “in Kenya jokes are about tribes and so is Nigeria. In the US it is about black and white races” he says though admits some people go overboard.
Tuwangye says as a Munyankole, he usually jokes about things people already know but would never craft lines about their women; “there is a thin line between what makes people laugh and what offends them. When you craft a joke, you know that someone will be offended.”
And of course, someone always gets offended, for instance, in 2010, Andrew Benon Kibuuka was called out for his comic character, Hajji Bumali since some sections in the Muslim community found it offensive. In a similar manner, an official from Buganda Kingdom complained to the Uganda Comedian Association asking them to rebuke duo Maulana and Reign following repetitive jokes that were directed towards Buganda and the Ganda people.
Tuwangye says that some comedians besides being lazy, they lack compassionate and moral values. These days it is common for comedians to make jokes that prejudice against people with special abilities.
Desire Kenneth Tereka, a proprietor of an organisation nurturing talents for the people with special abilities, says much as comedy is a form of entertainment, using a section of people to derive humor promotes negative perception.
Salvador, also the proprietor of a newly created weekly comedy night Just Comedy, recently at the inaugural press conference of his shows noted that it true some comedians go overboard though went on to say that the audience is equally to blame. “When Mariachi cracks vulgar jokes and you smile and chant, he will give you more but when you show him that you are not interested in such jokes, he will not bring them back again,” he said.
Tuwangye says audiences expect from comedians according to the way they brand themselves, he notes that there are people who recognition on the scene is purely from their explicit content and that’s what people expect of them. “When I organised my show, I knew the audience I was going to get and knew exactly the humour that would suit them,” he says.
Today, some Ugandans would dismiss Ssenga Nantume or Mariachi’s humour for its explicit nature and yet, they celebrate an American comic such as Chris Rock, Kevin Hart or Whitney Cumming whose content is X-rated as well.
For Tuwangye, this comes down to culture; “in Hollywood, sex is in their face all the time, it is in their films, songs and they have a legal porn industry that their audiences are probably okay with the jokes,” he says adding that Uganda on the other hand is a cultured place where people still uphold certain values.
There are places, he says in Kampala that can not take sex jokes while others can laugh to them without thinking twice.
Joshua Okello, alias Okello Okello, a comedian and the proprietor of Comedy Black Friday says that lack of research is what is fueling this kind of content.
“If you are to make a joke about Indians read a book or two about Indians, research is crucial,” Okello adds.
Hannington Bugingo, president Uganda Comedians Association and also the proprietor Fan Factory, says that at first stereotypes sounded well since most comedians had guidance.
“Things became so monotonous and later turned offensive, today, people don’t want to write proper jokes, they only pick a tribe to the other.” he says. However, Bugingo says much as there some deceptive Comedians who are still stuck with such kind of jokes; it is becoming hard to fraud the audience suggesting that those who are creative are getting market and clients.
“The danger is that many are not comedians but are only giving it a try. We have always asked them to be sensitive in regards to race, gender and tribes and we also push them to desist from being vulgar.”
Bugingo adds that the association isn’t taking the trend lightly and besides talking and nurturing comedians and groups that are attached to the association, serious measures are being set in place.
He says that for the association has already begun cracking its whip onto their own that recently they had the outfit of Maulana and Reign apologise after they were summoned over foul language.
Salvador decries lack of motivation as one of the reasons the quality of comedy productions is what it is; “many comedians are living off the art, with poor pay, they are forced to become monotonous and thus get no time to research or write new material.”