Is Ugandan stand-up comedy due a rethink?

Comedian Patrick “Salvador” Idringi (left) with a guest during the premiere of his show in 2022. Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • Complaints about Ugandan comedy include declining quality, lack of originality, limited audience, monopolisation by older comedians, and lack of gender diversity.

“I have seen comedians, very top notch comedians, ‘die’ on the stage of Comedy Store,” says Patrick ‘Salvado’ Idringi, arguably Uganda’s most accomplished stand-up comedian.

“[Daniel] Omara does one of the best sets I ever heard in my life, but there were a handful of people laughing [at the Comedy Store],” he adds. 

‘Dying’ on stage? Yes. Standup comedians do not ‘kill’ or  ‘die’ like the rest of us do. Instead, they “kill” when they have ‘killed’ their audience with side-splitting laughter onstage. When they fail to connect with their audience, then they say they have “died on stage.”

Recently, more and more comedians are ‘dying’ on stage as Ugandan stand-up comedy hits a nadir point owing to a number of reasons. For one, many Ugandan comedians believe comedy performed in bars has led to the decline of stand-up in Uganda. These bar-accusing comedians largely comprise the jokesters who took part in the MultiChoice Africa comedy competition, Standup Uganda, in 2009.

They argue that performances in bars called for comedians to appeal to the audiences’ lowest common denominator. This meant witty humour was swept aside in favour of burlesque. Consequently, an absurdity replaced the conversationality resident in stand-up comedy. This led to the rise of MC Mariachi, MC Kapale and a farrago of other comics whose focus was on applause lines instead of punch lines.

Beery beginnings

In contrast, stand-up comedy rose above its origins in the 1600s as it was performed in taverns to become a form of improvised entertainment. That was in the United Kingdom (UK). It was in the United States of America (USA), however, where it reached its extant notoriety. Comic lecturers, such as writer Mark Twain, toured the country in the 19th Century. Thereupon, standup comedy began to emerge as populist entertainment in vaudeville in the early decades of the 20th Century.

After this, New York-based clubs like the Comedy Cellar, the Broadway Comedy Club and the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, among others, were also watering holes, which lubricated the comedy boom in the 1980s.

Yet in Uganda, when comedians started performing in bars and stopped performing in theatres, comedy took a backseat as lowbrow comedians took the wheel. Many comedy fans, although, claim that this is untrue as Ugandan comedians, they emphasise, are not funny.

Comedy deficit

Ugandan comedians have often been accused of not burning the midnight oil when it comes to creating fresh and original material. They are thus known to repeat jokes, when unfavourably compared to their American counterparts. Some critics say this observation is a little unfair.

The number of Ugandans who consume comedy in Uganda is far smaller than the waves of fans that have elevated comedy to the crest of the entertainment industry in America. That is why a comedian such as Katt Williams will perform in 100 cities, each with several venues, for a fee in the starting range of $500,000-$749,000.

Williams will demand that his audience switches off its phones and therefore does not record the show. This way, he may continue testing his jokes by repeating them and thereby still appear to have fresh and original material.

Ugandan stand-up comedians do not have this American luxury of audience control or size. This is why our comedians appear jaded and repetitious, while American comedians appear the opposite.

The Ringer

A comedian, no matter how good or accomplished, must test their jokes by performing the same jokes to different audiences for about a year before a comedy special can be spliced together from the scattered laughter emanating from those different audiences.

In a 2016 appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, Eddie Murphy—stand-up comedy’s greatest grossing comedian—was involved in this conversation:

Kimmel: Doing stand-up is...people think you can just walk up on-stage and do it, but there’s like a whole lead-up to it.

Murphy: Oh, yeah. You gotta go back to the clubs, work out. All that stuff.

Stand-up in the digital age

Stand-up comedy has had to adapt to the rapidly changing digital landscape. With the rise of social media and streaming platforms, comedians may now lead the charge towards larger audiences. Platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram can be their weapons of choice. However, Ugandan comedians have shown the opposite in alacrity in embracing these platforms.

Certainly, comedienne Anne Kansiime has 3.7 million followers on Facebook, more than 1 million on Instagram and YouTube while Teacher Mpamire has 1,311,925 Facebook likes. However, Ugandan comedians have majorly been mute on these platforms, especially TikTok.

Salvado himself has dismissed the utility of TikTok to the art of stand-up. His sentiments recall the movie “2 Minutes of Fame” which stars master impressionist Jay Pharaoh as an aspiring stand-up comic with more of a presence online than on the stand-up stage. Accordingly, this movie spotlights his character to embody the argument that likes are not indicative of comedic artistry.

Is the playing field level?

Several younger comedians felt that Ugandan comedy was being monopolised by Uganda’s first generation of stand-ups, namely the 2009 MultiChoice stand-ups. That is why young comedians such as Timothy Nyanzi started “The Punchliners” to break this dominance. It worked.

Today, there are newer comedians such as Don Andre and Joshua Okello-Okello, who run thriving comedy showcases. Still, some young female comedians believe stand-up comedy in Uganda is still an old boy’s club and there must be a dose of affirmative action to cure this reality.

“Comedy is about being funny and not being gender-sensitive,” says one male comedian to this charge.

However, we must never forget a team of champions is not necessarily a championship team.

So having strictly funny comedians, unguided by a more equitable value system, is not what will boost comedy in Uganda.

For comedy is not about the comedy, it is about comedy. This means even those regarded as unfunny have a role to play, as an X factor divides the successful comedians from the not-so-successful.

In America, comics Andrew “Dice” Clay and Dane Cook were seen as terribly unfunny. But they helped fillip stand-up comedy to new levels of celebrity.


To keep their comedy interesting, comedians abroad perform in numerous cities, control their audience to prevent recordings, test their jokes in various venues over a year, and adapt to digital platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.