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Why Kenyan comedy doesn’t translate well outside Kenya

May 19, 2020 at 17:27
Why Kenyan comedy doesn't translate well outside Kenya

Kenyans seem to be unable to carry Kenyan comedy beyond the borders of our third world nation and this is a very interesting phenomenon. I am not referring to social media comedians because that is an entirely different ballgame -social media comedians rarely translate well off social media. I am referring to stand up comedians. Countries like Nigeria and South Africa, even Ghana have created some world-renown comedians who have taken to global stages but when it comes to Kenyans, for some reason we seem to stagnate at regional stages and even there, our comedians are often the least entertaining.

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Perhaps it’s down to the fact that Kenyans are so PC (politically correct) out of fear of being accused of being too controversial yet time tested and proven formula for comedians is for them to inflame emotions. Why? because they critique society. So I found myself coming up with reasons as to why Kenyan comedy seems to be consigned to the fate of remaining a largely Kenyan affair:

#1. Kenyan comedy is too local

King of Kenyan comedy Eric Omondi

When you think of Eric Omondi, Churchill or MC Jesse, what comes to mind? Local content drilled down so specifically, it only serves the niche that believes ethnic humour is funny. If say, you’re a Kenyan who doesn’t find ethnic humour hilarious, it fails to hit the mark with you. Say, you’re a Kenyan with global exposure either through access to foreign media or you have travelled/ lived abroad, it fails to hit the mark.
Now imagine if you will, a Ugandan listening to a Kenyan comedy skit talking about Kikuyus from Nyeri. Or a Zambian listening to a Kenyan comedy skit talking about a Luhya’s appetite, how the hell will they click with the humour?

#2. Kenyan comedy has stagnated -refused to grow out of its mould

King of Kenyan comedy MCA Tricky

When you think of Vitimbi, Vioja Mahakamani, you will be forgiven to think that this is the old school way of doing comedy. It is on the nose, low IQ, ethnic-based -essentially slapstick humour. And while this clearly had a fan base and a large one at that, such humour is contextual. It performed well because of the context. This was before social media allowed Kenyans to consume humour from other countries and it was all we knew from a social standpoint.
Problem is, the new crop of Kenyan comedians have simply pushed on with this same formula. That is why shows like Real Househelps of Kawangware is a thing yet it is simply the same script, different cast. Kenyan comedy, like a virus, continues to replicate itself in the same format because it mistakenly assumes that this is the tried and tested winning play.

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#3. Kenyan comedy lacks satirical content

Satire is comedic gold but because Kenyan comedy relies heavily on politicians and businessmen to be its benefactors, it refuses to poke fun at some of the more glaring issues these individuals have. Kenyan comedians refuse to hold up a mirror to the Kenyan society because they are scared to strike out a new path. So we are stuck with the same low brow, troglodyte humour about “my name is Mary, I come from Nyeri, I eat githeri bullshit.
To build this point further for the unimaginative among us, political situations in Kenya can be paralleled to situations in Nigeria. South Africa’s social-economic realities are similar to an extent to Kenya’s. That is why Trevor Noah was funny while he was talking about South Africa. But you have to first cut your chops on local satire to learn how to blend it to different realities.

#4. Kenyans abroad lack an identity

Kenyan comedy suffered because Kenyans abroad lack an identity. When West Africans in the diaspora land there, they resolve to maintain their culture. They celebrate it. Kenyans on the other hand, resolve to maintain their ethnic cultures. That is why you will find (and they hate it when this is pointed out to them) but when they can help it, they will tend to gravitate towards members of their own ethnic communities. West Africans identify first as West Africans then by their nations.
As a result, this keeps Kenyan comedians from having to innovate their humour when they go for comedic tours abroad.

#5. Kenyan comedy is stunted by the lack of an intelligent audience

We are troglodytes. We enjoy simplistic humour so we don’t have to think too hard. Kenyan comedy is pragmatic. Why reinvent the wheel when it works so well?

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Owago and Churchill

And this is why Kenya has failed to produce the next Trevor Noah, someone who can appeal to a wide audience and not just his fellow compatriots. It is why for Kenyan comedians to get a show abroad, it has to be organized by Kenyans living in the diaspora. It’s why Kenyans have yet to produce Russell Peters of our own.


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