There was a review recently of the performance of a new comedian in town. He is the latest fresh face of comedy sending Kenyans to roaring heights of laughter over the weekend.
Once you turn on your screen the comedian strolls on to the stage a microphone in hand while doing a jig. The first story rolls off the comedian tongue. It has something to do with what the comedian’s ethnic community is stereotyped about. The audience joins him in laughter.
The male comedian is followed by a female one. What hits you first is the fake accent designed to represent yet another community. Her joke is themed around female stereotypes, supposedly educating men on the tastes of females from some regions in the country. Strip the joke to its basic part and it is once again premised on ethnic stereotype.
After listening to the two you can predict what is coming up. Another comedian, another ethnic accent, and another supposed joke premised on a community. You listen to the stage name of the comedian and you can tell how the joke will be themed.
Is it that our comedians are lazy and eschew hard work? Why is it not possible in this country to draw comedy from some intellectual curiosity that leaves the mind asking for more?
Dalizo Chaponda is a Malawian comedian doing stand ups in the UK. He walks to the stage and opens his mouth to let out a shrill voice making you wonder where the relatively well built body hid its vocal assets. He runs through history demonstrating how society has evolved over the years and urges the public to get on with it and be appreciative.
Today, he says, society has made tremendous progress. Women can vote! There is social and technological improvement all around including the internet. Then comes the punch of his story to this all white audience. “Two hundred years ago this scene would have been an auction”, he intones and the public immediately gets it.
True, the joke still has some sense of ethnic historical truism but an uncomfortable one even if hilarious. In the process, Dalizo has educated his public, walked them through history of development and while they have laughed, they have also had their intellectual curiosity met.
The pioneers of Kenya’s laugh industry have done the country great service. It has created tremendous opportunity for young people: make up artists, production, scripting, among others. Stand-up comedy, however, seems to have been frozen in time.
Episode after episode, new talent upon new talent, it seems that we have remained glued to the same spot we have been assuming that the only thing that can amuse Kenyans is dwelling on their stereotypes. The joke has to be centred around Kikuyu and feature some financial thought trend, the Luhya and possible food thought, the Luo and some luxury idea and so on.
Creative work should not just reflect the stage where we are but should seek to transcend it. That is why it should be creative. Innovation should not be reserved to the emerging industry alone and associated exclusively with the technology sector.
This nation’s artists have demonstrated their creative ability through the emergence of some amazing creative literature.
Taban lo Liyong, the mercurial professor of literature from South Sudan, once characterised literature scene in East Africa as a literary desert and he was quickly corrected with evidence.
However, in the area of popular comedy time seems to stand still. Decades later, it seems the players remain the same and it is no wonder that their jokes have not changed. Maybe this reflects our habit as a copycat society. While this serves as safe ground it is, however, limiting and Kenyan comedy should move on. – The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University.