One of the pioneer stand-up comedians Pablo actually started comedy as a joke. Edgar R. Batte tells his journey.
You are celebrating nine years on stage… where did it all start?
I joined Theatre Factory in 2004, a year after it had been formed. I was a freelance reporter and I had gone to cover their rehearsal at what used to be TLC Club on George Street. Their director Philip Luswata asked for my contribution. I told them a crazy joke that sent them into hysterical laughter. He asked me to join them and act the situation. I became part of the team just like that.
Had you done comedy before?
Yes. I used to watch lots of comedy as a child especially Bill Cosby’s show Kids Say the Darnest Things. Sitcoms like Different Strokes, Sanford and Son, Desmonds, Club 227, Jeffersons, and Didi’s Comedy Show had a great influence on my life as child. They triggered the funny bone in me. When I watched Theatre Factory for the first time, they brought nostlagic memories of those sitcoms and I couldn’t hesitate to grab the opportunity when Luswata invited me to be part of Theatre Factory.
What was the comedy landscape like at the time and for you as an upstart?
Comedy at the time was not appreciated as a form of entertainment in Uganda. We used to rehearse from Monday to Wednesday for the Thursday show and walk away with Shs5,000 as transport refund. The beauty is that we were contented with the progress of the show and I don’t remember anyone complaining about money.
The proprietor of TLC used to give us a silver platter of rice after the show and reaffirm his commitment to support us. When the patrons started increasing in number he changed his mind and started charging us for using his venue instead. We shifted to the National Theatre- in the Green Room. It was around that time when NTV started in Uganda and they started filming our shows. That was the springboard of Theatre Factory’s success. The comedy show Barbed Wire gave us immense exposure. We had to leave the Green Room and start performing in the National Theatre Gardens. Comedy has never been the same ever since.
What was your first bad moment as a comedian?
I remember “dying” on stage in 2006. Dying in comedy is when the audience fails to appreciate your joke. I told the audience a story about the different ways of killing a rat. The story seemed very funny to me but it turned out to be more annoying than entertaining to the audience. The look on their faces would make you think they had been baptised in bitter lemon. I did not know what went wrong. I kept asking myself whether these people were related to the rat.
Did your heart sink after this incident?
Not at all. I walked backstage and I was received with comments like, “Pablo this is comedy not tragedy,” but I remember the director of the show Hannington Bugingo was kind enough to give me another opportunity to redeem myself. I had to cook up a story and that was around the time of the Temangalo saga. I came up with a story about it that sent the audience rolling off their seats in laughter. That’s the day I realised that a comedian is only as good as their previous gig.
Do you have a recollection of the first time you ever stood before a really big crowd?
It was in 2006 when Theatre Factory had their first ever Grand Comedy show at the National Theatre. It was packed beyond capacity. We had revellers climbing trees. In fact if the President had passed by at the time, he would have declared it a district.
Do you remember your first fan?
My first and biggest fan is a gentleman called Augustine Barigye. He works in Agago district. I am almost convinced that he would take a bullet for me.
Are you still in touch?
Yes. I am still finding it hard to forgive myself for not attending his wedding. I was out of the country making other people laugh instead of joining my number one fan celebrate his once in a lifetime marriage.
What was your first good joke as a stand-up comedian?
My first joke was about myself. I told the audience that I knew I would become a comedian the day I was born. My father walked into the maternity ward and asked my mother one question upon looking at baby me, “Is this a joke?” And here I am, a living joke.
How have you managed to crack clean jokes unlike your contemporaries who have made it conventional to joke dirty?
This country is blessed with lots of occurrences that a comedian will have a field day at any time. I choose to research, read newspapers, follow events on social media, observe what is happening and ask questions. I believe under-the-belt jokes are a sign of laziness.
What are your thoughts of the comedy landscape today?
I believe comedy in this country will thrive if the established comedians set the right precedent. We need to come together and do something about the weak links if we are to survive the test of time.
Do you agree with the argument that you comedians are fleecing the audiences because you do not put in enough time in preparing before coming to perform on stage?
It is true to some extent because I have seen comedians die on stage time and again but it would also be an unfair assessment of those who invest time to build their craft and kill the audience with laughter.
What comedian tickles you and why?
I love Nigeria’s Klint Da Drunk. He has found a niche that nobody can imitate. He is the kind of comedian who will tell you a joke and you’ll ask him to tell it over and over again. He is the only comedian whose fans request him to re-do a specific joke and even laugh harder than the first time. You might think it is a radio music request hour.
Which comedian bores you big time and why?
Any comedian that fails to figure out what they are trying to communicate will definitely lead to boredom. I am sure people who do not figure out what I am saying find me to be the most boring comedian.
You are fond of repeating jokes…don’t you think it is unfair to your fans?
It depends entirely where I am performing. If I am performing in more than one place to different people, I will definitely share the same material because it is new to them. The challenge is that the press team covering the different events in most cases is the same. Basing on the fact that a joke twice is not as funny means that the writer will be dead bored with you and they will share their opinion with the public which they are entitled to.
Let alone the excuse of performing for different audiences, when you repeat jokes, have you run out of steam or do you feel the joke is just too good?
The more you listen to a song, the more you grow to like it but with comedy the more you hear a joke the more you hate it. Surprisingly, the comedy academies I have been privileged to attend will encourage you to tell your jokes more and more so that they can be part of you. Why it is hard to execute in Africa is because we have the same audience at the same venue routinely. In developed countries like America, comedians will traverse the entire country performing the same material in different states. You should watch Chris Rock’s Kill The Messenger and you’ll understand what I am saying. My solution to this challenge is to have a show once a month. This gives me ample time to create new material.
What has been your worst stage experience and why?
I was taken to perform for traders down town. The organisation that had hired my services misled me that I was going to meet an English speaking audience despite my concern that the folks downtown do not generally have a good relationship with the queen’s language. It was a nightmare adjusting my script to the local language within a fraction of a second.
What have been the biggest highlights of your career?
I emerged winner of M-Net’s Stand-up Uganda Competition which earned me the bragging rights as Uganda’s King of Comedy in 2009. I was voted best actor by an opinion poll carried out in the newspapers in 2010. The young people voted me as the best TV personality in the Buzz Teeniez Awards in 2009 and 2010 consecutively.
Are there any recognitions outside Uganda?
Yes, I was invited to the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab, a home of prestigious theatre practioners in Salt Lake City Utah where I performed alongside celebrated actors in the US.
I was among the few comedians who were invited to New York’s Lincoln Theatre Centre last year to be part of the comedy training that attracted comedians from different parts of the world. I have had the grace and opportunity to perform before several presidents and kings, which is very humbling.
Comedy is taking your places; do you ever stop to remember that you were once a journalist?
Yes I do. I have practiced journalism before. In fact we started a newspaper which lasted six months. It was called The Vanguard. It is from there that I joined Power FM where I presented a morning radio show for five years. I still do write.
Your wife is a musician and you are always behind her concerts. Are you there as a fan or as her manager?
Well, when I have an opportunity to bring in business for her, I discuss it with the client. But I prefer her and her team dealing with the managerial roles.
How did you two meet?
We had been friends for a while but started discussing serious marriage issues six months before sealing the deal.
What did you like about your spouse?
My wife will tell you what she feels straight in your face without mincing her words. That is a very rare quality to find. She puts God before anything and will do whatever it takes to keep you sane and happy.
What is it like balancing between work as a comedian and at home as a husband and father?
Being good as a husband makes me better as a comedian and the reverse is true.
How much time do you spend with your family?
I always make it a point to go back home and have some quality time with them. Sunday is my day out with my son. We attend Sunday school together and create activity thereafter with mummy and the nanny.
How do you spend time together as a family?
We choose to either eat out or watch movies together. We have now added visiting relatives and friends on our Sunday programme.
What is it like being married?
Marriage is an awesome institution. It raises questions that make you think like a philosopher. It tames the wild animal in you and kills the selfish person in you because you begin to put other people’s interests before yours.
What makes your marriage work?
I am always quick to acknowledge my faults and ask for forgiveness. I prefer to listen and act. We discuss her career from a professional perspective and even engage stakeholders. We discuss our marital issues from a passionate point of view with no third party involved.
How did the coming in of the child affect your relationship?
It is hard to believe that you are a father especially if the baby has resemblance with you. Surprisingly, unlike what people used to tell us that when a baby comes in the mix your affection for your spouse reduces, ours hit the roof top.
Your wife is a former Miss Uganda contestant…how do you feel about this?
I believe it was worth it. There is always a time for everything. She did enjoy the experience to bits.
How do you rate her as an artiste?
I always tell her to wear shades because the future is bright. Her style of music is the kind that is hard to penetrate our music industry. Urban gospel is still fresh on our music scene. I am optimistic that it will be appreciated with time. At least her band is getting more gigs, which is a sign that people are appreciating it.
You have a gig tonight; will she be one of the main performers?
She’ll be performing with her Band Bracha.
Which other performers will be there?
I have invited Nigeria’s funniest man Klint Da Drunk. He was here a few months ago but when I told him that we are celebrating nine years of comedy, he vowed not to miss this. Established comedians like Richard Tuwangye, Bob Nuwagira and Edwin Mukalazi among others will be performing
What should fans expect?
They should expect to have a great time. Christmas has come early.
You have been flying in African comedians for some time. Where did you get the idea?
I realised that every time I do something, other people pick it on too, which isn’t bad because I believe imitation is an invitation to elevation if you do it the right way. I hosted Ugandan celebrities on my show Pablo Live and felt that I need to do something different.
That is why I thought by bringing in different comedians it would add value to the industry. A child who does not visit thinks the mum cooks best but you cannot carry all your children to another person’s home to taste the food. The best thing to do is invite the cook to your house and prepare the different cuisine.
Who is Pablo away from the comedian?
Pablo is a law abiding citizen, God-fearing and adhering. He is a husband, father and child. My guardian still calls me and says, “Yes my son.”