Celebrating African Comedians

IRENE WANJIRU

THEY say ‘laughter is the best medicine but if you laugh for no reason, then you need medicine!’ Comedians in Africa have tickled millions with their jokes, building a niche for themselves, with some becoming overnight celebrity millionaires. Among them are a growing number of rib-cracking women…

The face of comedy is changing in Africa. Populations in a majority of African countries are proud of their national comedians, whether they are on TV, radio or online. ore and more people are earning a living from it. Satirical puppet and cartoon shows have broken new ground and significantly, more and more women are taking to the space to entertain the crowds – in person, via broadcast or online.

Several years ago, there were hardly any women in the field in Africa. In Kenya, comedy stalwart Churchill began giving new comedians a shot at proving themselves on his TV show. Many of those were women.

While on stage, Teacher Wanjiku’s signature act was to turn her performance into a classroom setting and she would almost always finish with the lines ‘Kwa kazi ya ziada’ (‘for extra work’), which became a sensation with her audiences.

As Wanjiku entertained, she would advise people to ‘stick to the point’ and remind them of the need to work hard to prosper. While her comic routine kept has people laughing, her choice to use a Kikuyu accent kept her fresh.

Similarly, the comedians are quick to remind audiences that it’s just not about laughter, the art requires a great deal of thoughtful preparation, coordination and careful timing.

Elsewhere, one of the youngest social media sensations in recent years has been Emanuella Samuel, who turns 11 in 2021.

Emanuella, a Nigerian, has left many in stitches with her productions since she graced the screens at the tender age of five, a situation attributed to her surreal kind of comedy.

Even at her tender age, she has a large number of achievements to her name, including winning the Top Subscribed Creator from YouTube at the inaugural edition of the Sub-Saharan African YouTube Awards in 2016.

She also won the Best New Comedienne and Princess of Comedy awards at the Afro-Australia Music and Movie Awards (AAMMA).

Also in 2016, she was hosted by CNN while a year earlier, in 2015, she won the G-Influence Niger Delta Special Talent Award.

Emmanuella has a YouTube channel and boasts of millions of viewers in her productions and she keeps going, not forgetting her classwork.

Her hard work was further witnessed last year when she changed her mother’s story from tenant to homeowner and promised to buy her a ‘mansion’.

While gifting the house, Emmanuella said she built the house specifically for her mother’s supportive and prayerful role in her career.

“I built this for you mum. For all the prayers, all the encouragement and support. Mummy I know you said you want a portable house and that is it but forgive me because I must complete your mansion next year (2021). Do not worry it won’t make us go to hell,” she posted on her Instagram account last November when she gifted her mother with the house.

Several other women have made a name for themselves in the continent. Those include Ugandan Anne Kaansime, a comedian and an actress. Kansiime, who started it out in a theatre group at Makerere University, has been a household name for well over six years.

According to Kansiime, she started off by posting some of her skits on YouTube and the positive feedback she received from them kept her going. A high moment was when she was contacted by a Kenyan media house, Citizen TV and offered a slot for her ‘Don’t Mess with Kansiime’ comedy show.

Her show was a big hit in Kenya and at the same time, her Youtube channel grew a thousand-fold. She later appeared on the BBC’s Focus on Africa.

Kansiime has also had performances in several countries across Africa and abroad, including Kenya, Gaborone, Rwanda, Malaysia, Nigeria, Malawi, the UK, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Emmanuella and Kansiime are just two examples of a revolutionized comedy industry, which continues to grow in popularity.

Comedians state that the interaction between them and their audiences gives them the strength to keep going. However, just like any other sector, comedy has had its fair share of challenges during the COVID-19 era. Comedians have had to change tack to retain their audiences performances.

Comedians are now using social media platforms to keep fans entertained and their names in active circulation. They say that have to put in extra energy to remain relevant to keep their audiences intact. At the same time, the face of comedy is changing. And it is becoming a lot more female.

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