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COVID-19: How comedians are coping in the pandemic times

Richard Tuwangye, Bugingo Hannington and Kenneth Kimuli aka Pablo

In times of crisis, the performing arts industry is often among those most affected. In addition to health concerns, this is a challenging moment for many in our country as we deal with cancelled income and trying to make plans during uncertain times.

Artists are finding themselves in a vulnerable position as daily updates from the government continue and fear of what comes next overshadows life as we once knew it. Many artists are facing similarly risky futures as the coronavirus pandemic causes the postponement or cancellation of concerts, tours, festivals along with the closure of theaters and hangouts.

From musicians to filmmakers to comedians, working artists are growing increasingly unsure of where they’ll be able to share and sell their work as COVID-19 continues to sweep the globe. Edgar R. Batte talked to some comedians to see how they are coping in these trying times.

“The bitter truth is, this particular coronavirus storm kind of reveals that as creators, we are under-creating. We should churn out more TV content because we have the creative muscle. Some serious logistical challenges indeed stand in the way but we must do with what we have,” explains comedian and actor Richard Tuwangye.

He is reflecting on the fact that as tradition has been, many comedians are paid when they perform. “Fun factory can support its people but with no weekly inflow for approximately two months, it will eventually be a strain,” he adds.

Last night, comedian Pablo, real name Kenneth Kimuli, could afford himself to a smile. ‘Pablo Live Show’ premiered on Pear Magic, on show, he hosts and chats with fellow comedians to know more about what they do when they aren’t on stage.

Every episode has a bubbly audience out to flex its funny bones. It will have 13 episodes, each with two guests. Some of the notables include Daniel Omara, Oyo Caesar, Uncle Mark, Ojay & Laptop and Timothy Nyanzi. As luck may have it, he recorded the episodes in February. Now more than ever, the use of social media platforms has evolved, with users finding more professional use for them than simple, casual connection.

Hannington Bugingo is president of The Uganda Comedians Association (TUCA). He says, “As comedians, we have a group where we interact. AS Fun factory, we initially resorted to doing a virtual show in National Theatre, with no audience but eventually, the theatre was closed. Most of us are doing live shows on our social media pages to interact with our fans because we know they are home and bored,” he explains.

Tuwangye says that plans have been put on hold. “A few good sponsors were at the brink of signing contracts, some had already signed but now everything hangs in balance. Every company will 1st have to put their house in order after this storm,” he explains.

He adds that many of the group’s plans have had to be halted as they had scheduled to launch a comedy online-platform this month but they have had to cancel the initiative.

But for Pablo, the pandemic calls for innovative ways of remaining relevant and in touch. “With the coming of zoom, we are having conversations with comedians internationally to create ways of keeping our audiences alive,” he explains.

He adds, “Just like any other profession, if you hadn’t prepared for times like these then you’ll inevitably feel the pressure. The biggest challenge right now is for events that have been cancelled and yet we had invested some money. That will go down the drain.”

This has encouraged them to pay more attention to digital audiences. Plus, he didn’t carry all his eggs in one basket. His other sources of income have bailed the family out. He is a farmer too. He grows matooke, potato, onion, tomato, and cassava.

His advice is the need to form associations, SACCOs, and invest in daily income-generating activities. “Those that can afford to invest in treasury bonds or buy shares on the stock market, it’s a good deal,” he adds.

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