Kenya’s Eric Omondi explains why stand-up is an African pastime

Finding a universal punchline in one country is hard enough, but doing it across an entire continent is something else entirely.

It was a winning feature from Eric Omondi, the pioneering comedian who has been selling shows across Africa for 16 years.

Apparently the first Kenyan to perform on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, in 2017, he was also named Best Comedian at the African Entertainment Awards USA, three times in a row starting in 2018.

The Kenyan comedian returns to the UAE to headline DxB Comedy Knights on Saturday, an international comedy showcase featuring Pius Xulu from South Africa, John Achkar from Lebanon and Imah Dumagay from the Philippines.

No stranger to Dubai, Omondi expects another vocal audience, including a sizable number encompassing the UAE’s diverse African communities.

“It’s really one of the great things about coming back because, really, when you come back, Africa comes to you,” he says. The National.

“There are people from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia and so many others that I feel like I am at home. They all love the idea of ​​coming together and laugh at things they can all relate to.

Despite the different languages, cultures and traditions, Omondi says there are some universal aspects of Africa.

“I talk a lot about our mothers on the show,” he says.

“No matter where you’re from, everyone has or knows that typical African mom. The one who’s strong and tough. The one who loves you but shows no emotion and runs the house like a military camp.

Another topic that resonates across borders is the tried-and-tested comedic premise of marriage.

“But it’s not like you think,” laughs Omondi.

“I talk about how this subject reveals a generational gap and how before in many parts of Africa polygamy was accepted as a normal thing. Now the new generation asks, how did the old ones do it, because who wants all this headache. »

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Good-natured jokes aside, comedy is becoming serious business in Africa.

Except for the lull caused by the pandemic, Omondi says comedy clubs are springing up from Nigeria and Uganda to South Africa.

One of the main reasons for the growth is that the art form resembles a professionalized everyday social and cultural practice indigenous to the continent.

“It’s storytelling and it’s such an African thing,” he says. “Every African has grown up and sits with their friends and family listening to their funny stories.

“Now some of them might be a bit over the top, but you didn’t mind because the goal is to make you laugh and smile.”

But doing it professionally is no laughing matter.

Omondi got her first big break with an appearance on a Kenyan TV variety show Churchill show in 2008, but he says it took some time for full social acceptance of his profession.

“There was always this idea of ​​’you should get a good job,'” he recalls.

“That’s why I see myself and my colleagues, who are part of the first generation of Kenyan stand-up comedians, as creative freedom fighters, because we had to fight for our space to happen and be accepted.”

Fight for the next generation

Turning the tide of battle was the same technological force propelling the rise of African music genres such as Nigeria’s Afro-pop and South Africa’s Amapiano to become global sensations.

“Social media really revolutionized the comedy scene in Africa between around 2009 and 2011 because we didn’t have to totally rely on a comedy club to perform or travel,” he says.

“With social media, I can post something on Instagram or YouTube and I can reach people with my content from Ghana to South Africa in a second.

“It has made the continent a global village.”

Ironically, these porous cultural boundaries caused by the internet have prompted the self-proclaimed “president of comedy in Africa” ​​to embark on a new campaign.

In February, Omondi made local headlines when he locked himself in a transparent box outside the Kenyan parliament to protest the lack of regulation, forcing local broadcasters to play music by Kenyan musicians.

“It’s a bigger problem in Africa, but in Kenya it’s a big problem because only about 15% of the content on our national stations is by Kenyans,” he says.

“We need to fight to create space for these artists because it will inspire the next generation to enter the arts and create a better industry. We have a lot of great talent in Kenya that we need to nurture and provide real opportunities. “

DxB Comedy Knights with Eric Omondi will take place at the Mall of the Emirates Theatre, Dubai on July 23. Show times are 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are Dh100 from ae.bookmyshow.com

Updated: July 20, 2022, 11:27 a.m.

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