FUNNY: Uncle Mo maybe a household name now, but even after finding his big break, the real-life engineer and comedian still has doubts about his potential, writes Andrew Kaggwa.
There was a time when you would google Uncle Mo and chances were you would receive pictures of an American polo horse of the same name. Uncle Mo is a retired American champion Thoroughbred racehorse who went undefeated in his two-year-old season and was named the American Champion Two-Year-Old of 2010. But that was then.
When you google Uncle Mo today, two things will show up; the American horse and links to videos of social commentary by a Ugandan content creator. The videos, set in a garage, usually have him working on a car and taking a break to talk to himself about things that are going on in the country. What makes the whole talk interesting is the delivery and interpretation of the week’s top stories.
There are many things one can say about Moses Kiboneka Jr; he is a motor mechanic, actor, singer, writer and of late, a comedian.
But this is not something new, Kiboneka has always been part of drama. From those days at Kings College Buddo to random karaoke sing offs at a bar, he always left a mark.
However, even before he took on active drama or art, there has always been an element of drama with his life. For instance, while joining university, he did not get the course he had applied for at Makerere University, he was offered a Bachelors of Statistics, but on government sponsorship.
“I did not tell my dad that I had been given a course on government because it was not the course I wanted to do,” he says.
He wanted to do electrical engineering at Kyambogo University. “…and that is what my father was paying for.”
However, he also wanted to collect the allowance that government-sponsored students were entitled to, thus hatching a plan, to secretly do the two courses at once.
“I was an evening student for one and a day student for the other,” he says.
When there were cases where tests or exams clashed, he says he would always side with the engineering course since it is engineering that he was passionate about.
It was at that time that he discovered motor engineering, almost by mistake.
“My brother used to run a garage in Kireka. Since I was doing engineering, he thought it was a good thing for me to come around and help,” he says, adding that he later noticed that his brother wanted him to work for the money he gave him.
When he joined Nyange Auto-Mobile Workshop however, he saw different opportunities.
“I interested them in having computers around, turning all the invoices and our accounts books into soft copies that could easily be saved or accessed via desktop,” he says.
Since they believed the work was going to be too much for a student that had to juggle school and the mechanic gig, his brother did not hesitate when Kiboneka asked for Shs500,000 to turn their entire book of accounts catalogue into a soft one.
“I went to Makerere and looked for three boys that I paid Shs50,000 and in about two weeks, they were done,” he says.
That was the beginning of his journey with cars. Today, he is a partner and the general manager at Nyange.
“I got sucked into motor engineering that I have never practiced electrical engineering,” he says.
The workshop could easily pass for the Ugandan edition of Pimp My Ride. Some of the cars at the garage are as old as 40 years.
Making of Uncle Mo
For many people that are outgoing, it is hard to remember that first time they came across the name Uncle Mo.
He showed up out of nowhere and started having an opinion about everything art – however, unlike many opinionated people, even when he was going to go as hard on your show or performance, he was always comical. Well, comical for the readers, not the person on the receiving end.
Uncle Mo reviewed almost all shows that the trendiest people wanted to be at; goat races, picnic-themed shows such as Blankets and Wine or Roast and Rhyme to festivals and ordinary concerts.
This, coupled with his choice of language, made many of his posts easily noticeable. At one point he was talking about all closets being abandoned as ‘all’ sexes of people showed up for Blankets and Wine while in another, he was annoyed at a band manager whose group had put up an excuse of a performance.
The views were widely shared and some were even re-published by newspapers.
Others were easily re-published by artistes, especially if they praised their performance, the Facebook posts were almost taken to the bank – they were validations.
Still, he was more known for being a mechanic than anything else.
One day, while he was at a garage, he received a call from Charles Kabogoza, then one of the lead actors on NTV’s popular drama, Deceptions.
“He was wondering if I still act like I used to do in school because he needed me for a fix,” he says.
On getting on set, he noticed an actor had been fired and someone had to take the role so that they could complete shooting.
“I read the lines and in a short time, I was hired.”
Since he had been cast impromptu, he did not have a costume but this did not stop him. From one episode to the next, he got his TV break, which introduced him to other creatives within the film industry and others in theatre.
The way Kabogoza approached him was not different from the way another old friend he had enjoyed a karaoke sing off with in a bar approached him. He told him about a musical they were planning to stage.
It was an audition for Misfits, a theatre outfit that has specialised in producing musicals.
“By the time I was invited, the guy knew about my singing, but had not seen me act before.”
As they say, the rest is history.
Today, Uncle Mo has appeared in Power of Legacy, Junior Drama Club, a web series, The Fix, Bed of Thorns and his first lead role in Love Faces. For theatre, he has done shows such as Think Like A Man, Body Guard and Love Neega among others.
It is from the stage plays that most people started appreciating him. For Think Like A Man, for instance, he was new on stage thus the producer and director would restrain him when it came to when and how he could improvise.
Yet, after winning over the audience in those shows, they gave him creative freedom with the plays that were staged later.
With congregations suspended, it meant that there were no performances for a longer part of 2020 after Covid-19 hit and thus, Uncle Mo had nothing to review.
One time, a friend, Diana Ringtho, told him she used to read his reviews, but believed they would have been better if they were shot as video.
“Truth is that I had an idea of doing a TV show making fun of current affairs because I believe it is fun to laugh at your problems. I had the idea as early as 2011. At one point I actually wrote a concept and took it to NTV,” he says.
It is at NTV that he met renowned arts journalist Moses Serugo who was working with the programming department.
“He liked the idea and had promised to present it to the bosses but then he left the station shortly after.”
Almost five years later, when Jon Stewart left the Daily Show, “I received a text from Serugo saying, “Jon Stewart is leaving, your time.”
Yet, it took six more years and a pandemic for him to eventually start. He says, one thing that always stopped him was the absence of someone to shoot the whole show.
When he told Ringtho, she offered to shoot for him if he put together a good script. He tried watching online shows such as Fezah, Club Beats and Bobi Wine’s, but noticed he could hardly put together a script.
“These shows were overproduced to near perfect that it was so hard to put together an interesting review,” he says.
At the same time though, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett were in the media over an affair that involved August Alsina, a singer-songwriter who is also a friend to their son, Jaden Smith.
That’s what he wrote about and sent the script to Ringtho who liked it but there was another crisis; where are we shooting from?
Birthing the videos
“Initially, since I was into this whole Daily Show vibe, I was thinking about a friend’s office, you know he has a large desk and I thought I could sit and swing like; ‘Welcome to my channel..’ but when I talked to the guy, he simply laughed and said jokingly, ‘go do that in the garage’,” he says.
What started as a joke was the masterstroke he needed. Today, he shoots and uploads at least three videos a month. He says the garage changed his delivery because it made the videos more casual and engaging, but that’s not all.
“In a garage, I don’t have to worry about costume, I put on my single overall for all the videos and no one will complain.”
At the beginning, his content was easily coming from topics on local TV shows such as Uncut or Live Wire were talking about. He had a shift, though when he delved into the whole UCC and artist regulation saga and later the Ham Vs Diamond Trust Bank case.
“After my video of the Ham Vs DTB, I got about 1,300 subscribers in one week,” he says, adding that the video turned things around.
“It was watched across platforms, some people downloaded it and posted it on Facebook while others edited it and used just the parts they liked. I think it was actually watched more than the views it got on YouTube,” he says.
Today, there is an audience that understands his humour, he says, and that’s what keeps him going.
“Anne Kansiime, for instance, wrote a comment on one of the videos, “I can’t wait for you to get the views you deserve.” and I was looking at the comment thinking, but I don’t even think I deserve the views I have.”
When he set up his YouTube channel, he said he thought he would grow it in about two years. He believed his first 1,000 views would come in about six months, yet, when he started, things happened earlier than he had anticipated.
“I remember getting 1,000 views. I called a friend who works with a petroleum company to ask if they could start advertising with me…”
Today, Uncle Mo, the YouTube channel, and the brand, keep growing. He believes the future is bright now that he’s spreading his wings when it comes to the topics he is writing about. He wants to resonate with Ugandans but even better, Africans.
His biggest video on the channel is one he did about the Meghan Markle interview. It earned him 10,000 views in a single day.
He hopes to keep the video formats growing to engage more, for instance, his videos at the moment are scripted with lines tailored for Ringtho who is the director and person on camera.
Sometimes she is heard telling him that he is getting off topic or that things will be fixed in post-production.
“But I’m looking forward to that time when I will have a live audience. I believe we will get there.”
The Future: Uncle Mo, the YouTube channel, and the brand, keep growing. He believes the future is bright now that he’s spreading his wings when it comes to the topics he is writing about. He wants to resonate with Ugandans but even better, Africans.
Milestones: His biggest video on the channel is one he did about the Meghan Markle interview. It earned him 10,000 views in a single day.
He hopes to keep the video formats growing to engage more.
Dreams: “I’m looking forward to that time when I will have a live audience, I believe we will get there.”