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Are local comedy kings ready to be crowned?

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Daniel Omara, Patrick Salvado and Kenneth Kimuli aka Pablo are some of the StandUp Comedians in Uganda. PHOTO/ NET

Spike Lee’s The Original Kings Of Comedy show is unique in comedy history, even though it drew inspiration from Russell Simmons’s Def Comedy Jam. To be exact, it brings together comedians Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Bernie Mac, and Cedric The Entertainer.

And it is the third highest grossing comedy concert movie in history, raking in a respectable Sh165b or $44 million at the Box Office and vaulting the said comedic quartet to celebrity beyond the demi-celebrity of the urban market and into mainstream America.

The way it was filmed also helped. Documenting even the behind-the-scenes goings-on during the last night of the comedy tour, featuring the four black comedians, it came across as authentic. More, the Original Kings Of Comedy’s stand-ups, proved to be past masters at conventionalizing unconventional racial stereotypes.

Most importantly, the show heightened the sense of Black Community. While reintroducing black comedy to the world in its two-hour running time.

Kings of  comedy

On December 1, 2022, Ugandan jokester Napoleone Ehmah posted on social media: “The KINGS OF COMEDY...The Legends...The Pioneers...The Founding Members of Uganda’s StandUp Comedy shall descend upon the great city of Soroti and speak English as they send the Iteso into Christmas with big smiles....”

He tagged fellow kings Patrick Salvado, Pablo, Omara Daniel and Dolibondo. Two years and several shows later, Napoleone announced the 2024 Kings of Comedy June show:

“Mbararaaaaaaaa…. The land of Milk and Honey and other liquids!

Yours truly, alongside the best in the comedy game, will invade your beautiful city, and readjust your jaws and ribs, in a Comedy Concert be remembered.

Come with enough towels to wipe the tears of joy and also wipe any surfaces that may need wiping!”

By this time, the kings had expanded to include Ronnie McVex, Dr Hilary Okello, Joshua Okello-Okello, Madrat & Chico, among others.

Collaboration over annihilation

This countrywide tour by Uganda’s putative kings of comedy may be viewed as a response to the dampened appeal that the art form has suffered in recent years.

A second wind was indeed in order

Besides that, the timely transformation of our comedy into a collaborative rescue plan is the defining feature of a Ugandan stand-up comedy revolution that began in 2009.  One could say comedians have realised that they only have themselves if they want to remain culturally relevant. This should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Instead, it is an astute reading of the times and tendencies with respect to the performance arts.

Boom and bust 

There are cycles of booms and busts. Theses cannot be wished away, but they can be mined for additional huzzahs.  After all, the Original Kings of Comedy arose out of the same ruins of declining stand-up appeal in America.  In the 1970’s, stand-up comedy experienced its first boom in America, with a profusion of comedy clubs opening in the States. Between 1978 and 1988 more than 300 comedy clubs opened up across the US, allowing for a second comedy boom occurring in the 1980s.

In the early 1990s, there was a downturn in the appeal of stand-up comedy.

This happened despite Comedy Central having been born in 1991 following the merger of Comedy Channel and the Ha! Network.

Also, MTV started “Half-Hour Comedy Hour” in 1988, and HomeBox Office had just created the late-night show “Def Comedy Jam” in 1992.

Still, comedy was circling the drain.

Against this backdrop, The Original Kings Of Comedy sprang into being in 2000. There was a third comedy boom in 2009. In the same year, MultiChoice Africa’s comedy competition Standup Uganda happened and launched into the public consciousness many of the top Ugandan stand-up comedians we appreciate today.  In America, the mother ship of modern stand-up comedy, certain innovations brought comedy back to the fore.

What  now

As with their American counterparts Maron and Delaney, Ugandan comedians will be forced to look beyond the stage in order to revive their art form’s appeal.  There were early attempts to do this with Pablo (Kenneth Kimuli) having a long-running humour column in the Weekly Observer and Daniel Omara expertly executing satirical shows such as Business Unusual and Yap (which he did with Tumu Siime) on Urban TV.

However, these registered blips on the comedic radar. This could be because those sit-down comedy shows, if you will, had not expanded on the themes available to make light of, despite their being delivered with precision and punch.

It might be the opportune time for comedy to undertake a radical critique of society as opposed to preaching to a choir devoted to a narrower comedic fare, leavened by ethnic stereotypes.

We live in an age where power has overstayed its welcome and people want a return the normalcy that does not intrude upon their freedoms and finances. To remain relevant, then, our comedy must express the antiestablishment spirit of the age and the counterculture.

Comedians must take aim at the arrogance of power and distorted values of a senior citizenry clearly out of its depths in a world desirous of youth-inspired solutions to problems afflicting the youth.

This will ensure comedy resonates with younger generations protesting what they feel is their exclusion from local society by their acquisitive elders.

Comedic sincerity on issues and integrity about where comedians stand on those issues will draw admiration because people love comics who are ready to stick their necks out. Richard Pryor did it. George Carlin did it. So did Dave Chappelle. What do these three have in common? They changed comedy forever. It is time for our kings to do the same.