African comedy: Not just for laughs

25 Feb 2018

African comedy is a hot commodity, and it is flooding the international comedy circuit to feed a growing appetite for diaspora humour.

Being funny in Africa has become a lucrative career. Even in struggling economies, comedy is generating a significant income for many entertainers booking regional and international gigs - particularly as social media makes satire more accessible than ever.

The same could be said for Africans living around the world. The proof is in the recent successes of comedians such as Kinshasa-born Eddie Kadi, the first black British comedian to headline a show at O2 arena; British-Nigerian stand-up comedian Gina Yashere; Daliso Chaponda, the UK-based Malawian of Britain’s Got Talent fame who now has a BBC Radio 4 show; Ghanaian-born American and ‘African King of Comedy’ Michael Blackson; the list goes on. African diaspora comics are now more popular than ever.

“There has definitely been a rise - locally there have been more African comedy events, and you see local comedians asked to host brand events. People seem to be able to make careers in comedy, and that couldn’t have happened I don’t even think five years ago,” says Ikenna Azuike, the British-Nigerian satirist best known for presenting the BBC-produced pop-culture show What’s Up Africa.

“Internationally, on my Instagram feed, way more content is being produced and shared, particularly by the Nigerian community in the diaspora.”

GLOBAL APPEAL

Perhaps it is their insights into the shared challenges Africans living in the US and Western Europe face which is fuelling the craze.

"You don’t really think about it a lot but in most African diaspora families, humour is a part of the scenario,” Nairobi-born, New York-raised stand-up comedian Agunda Okeyo said recently in a

television interview with American media. “It helps us with the real structural issues that we’re dealing with politically, whether it's colonialism or slavery or Jim Crow or apartheid.”

Camaraderie is also an important factor. Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who has been catapulted into the international spotlight since taking over the American television programme The Daily Show, has notably hired a number of Ugandan and South African writers.

“Just the fact that he was invited to be the host, it was a rubber stamp that yes, African comedians can have a global appeal,” says Azuike. “Now that he is inviting African writers to join his team, people are saying, ‘It’s true - African writers are funny’.”

PRINCES OF COMEDY

The African Princes of Comedy, a collection of nearly 30 comedians from the continent and in the diaspora, is perhaps the best example of a void in the comedy scene being filled. They have toured North America and the UK since 2013 with more than 100 sold-out shows on thecomedy circuit, and they show no signs of slowing down.

The collective says its main goal is to give Africans confidence to identify as African, and to open a window to African culture for the rest of the world through their witty storytelling and punchy jokes.

Laughter is, of course, a universal language.