Wanting more: Stand Up comedy is slowly becoming unpopular because of a vice that is spreading fast. For those that attend the shows, the strategy is to avoid taking the front seats lest you get accosted by a comedian or artiste. When did the performing arts become a platform for begging? Isaac Ssejjombwe writes.
Two weeks ago, President Museveni was the guest of honour at Catherine Kusasira’s concert at Kampala Serena Hotel. The concert, dubbed Tears of a Woman, however turned into a begging show, with people using the opportunity to solicit money from the President.
From the concert’s emcee to Kusasira herself, the pace was set for several others in attendance. Meme after meme, social media made fun of all those that were caught on camera begging.
Some people will say it is not everyday that you come close to the President and get the opportunity to make your requests known. But the incident at Kusasira’s concert brought to light a vice that is quickly catching fire, especially among comedians.
For long, whispers and open expressions have been made about certain comedians notorious for embarrassing members of the audience in their quest to milk tips out of them. And early this week, a one Emmanuel Okiror wrote a letter in one of the local dailies expressing his discomfort over an uncomfortable experience he witnessed while attending the Comedy Store show recently.
Okiror wrote about comedians who jump into the audience begging for money and valuable gifts. “Surprisingly, even when given, they did not appreciate but insulted in an embarrassing fashion. It was worse for those like me who had nothing to give; I was called names, abused and left broken before my colleagues and flashing cameras,” he wrote.
Okiror’s letter made rounds on social media and there, several other people shared their experiences and detest over the practice.
“One time I was seated in front banange MC Kapale… I became his drum. Each time he would turn, he would start on me, I have never forgiven him nor liked him,” a one Pen Ninah wrote.
“Hmm…. I attended some show where MC Mariachi was the last comedian to perform. He was super obscene and spent half his time on stage asking for tips. It was irritating. In fact I think I dosed off at that show.
I’m sorry but I’m yet to meet a good standup comedian in Uganda. We have a long way to go,” Cathy N. wrote.
“I agree with this writer. These guys can really embarrass you and wish you did not attend. At one time, Mariachi embarrassed some elderly lady mbu she is supposed to be home looking after her grandchildren. Eeeee,” Kasujja Hatty wrote.
For most people, the frustration is about why the comedians forcibly collect money from an audience that has already paid to attend the show.
However, in response to the allegations made in the letter, Alex Muhangi, the proprietor of Comedy Store, released a statement saying the habit will not be tolerated.
“Management has severally engaged comedians on the conduct that is expected of them while on stage in a bid to promote professionalism but also for the sake of customer experience. We assure our audience that going forward, any conduct that goes against the set standards will not be tolerated. Measures have already been devised. We also appeal to the audience to in the same spirit not be the ones prompting comedians to solicit money,” the statement reads.
“Comedy, worldwide is a stress reliever and relaxer. And it is this that the management and staff of Comedy Store Uganda strive to achieve always. It is for this same reason we ensure the input of our audience even in selecting which performers feature on the show.”
One of the comedians whose name has come up often in regards to this issue is Mc Mariachi. In the social media thread from Okiror’s letter, many accused him of not only going as far as begging while down on his knees, but also using insults.
When contacted to say something about this, Mariachi refused to comment and switched off his phone.
We spoke to a few other comedians to get their take on the issue.
Comedians are doing badly
I blame promoters for paying comedians peanuts yet fame comes with responsibilities. These comedians have a lot of expenditure. The clothes they wear, the cars they drive, the houses they sleep in all need a big budget yet events promoters give them little money. So with all that pressure, they are left with no option but to solicit for more money from the audience. Some can make much more than what promoters pay them.
Of course I have a problem with the little pay but the challenge is that the moment you speak about it, the promoters start boycotting you. I tried advocating for more pay for comedians but failed.
Patrick Salvado Idringi.
It is shameful and very disgusting
The issue of begging among comedians is one of the reasons I started Just Comedy. I call it a vice because it is shameful and disgusting and it is one of the things that is killing our industry. People come to our shows to relieve stress and the biggest contributor of stress in Uganda is the fact that people do not have money but someone saves his or her money to come and enjoy comedy with their loved one and before they know it, someone is in their face begging for money, holding them at ransom and if they do not give, they are criticized. It is so painful. At my shows, I do not want to hear of such incidents and I do not encourage it in any way because it is something that demoralises the audience.
It has become a tradition because someone will make a joke for five minutes and spend the next 10 minutes asking for money. It may be funny but you do not know what that person is going through yet you are criticising them for not tipping you.
It would be okay if someone just appreciates a joke and gets up from their seat and comes to the stage and hands over money. I have seen it in Nigeria and those comedians stay focused even after receiving the tip but here, it is totally different.
My advice to Ugandan comedians is that we stick to our art and remain professional, otherwise we will not have any content yet it is content that sells on digital platforms.
The vice is reducing
Begging among comedians was very rampant and we addressed it on social media and I am so happy that it has reduced, although there are still a few of them begging. We talked to members on our group and those doing it stopped.
If someone pays their money to come and enjoy comedy, it is not fair to put them at gunpoint for a tip. At Fun Factory, you can never do that and we actually tell the guest stand up comedians at our shows never to do it. We are trying to engage other platform owners to stop comedians from doing it too.
Chairman, Uganda Musicians Association
In relation to what happened at Catherine Kusasira’s concert, anyone would do the same because the President rarely attends concerts. It is the only chance people had to express their desires, knowing that the President always moves with envelopes.
Other times, an artiste has to interact with people in the audience and while targeting particular people who are recognisable, who in return start dishing out money without care. In fact, such people always welcome being recognised.
However, what I discourage is holding an event and then tell the emcee to start soliciting money from the audience. An example is during the Tugende Mukikadde show two years ago when the emcees started asking for money from businessman Gordon Wavamunno and he got pissed because he had come to enjoy the show, paid for a table but was being stressed to pay extra money.
It is disrespectful and unprofessional
The act is shameful, unethical, unprofessional and disrespectful. Comedians who do it should stop because they make the audience uncomfortable. The way they solicit for money is disrespectful yet these people spend a lot on entry fee and other costs. You do not budget on someone’s budget.
I witnessed this myself a few days ago when a Ugandan girl came with her White boyfriend and a comedian went to their table and started asking for money. The man refused to give it to him and the comedian started insulting him in Luganda. The audience found it funny and immediately the man left with his girlfriend. That man will perhaps never attend any Ugandan comedy show again and just imagine if that happens everyday.