It can easily be seen as another pull-him-down article. But this is a lamentation on the state of our arts industry, especially standup comedy.
For decades, Malawi has been used to the contagious kind of comedy, where more than one person act comedy on the stage.
It was [started and] popularized by the legendary Izeki and Jakobo duo. The laughter usually comes because the other member of the play is laughing and it ends up making the audience laugh as well.
But standup comedy is a whole new different setup. A comedian stands before the people, and all alone, makes jokes for the people to laugh.
Let it be clearly stated that this is not such a simple task as the contagious one. In the latter, the audience is driven by the comedians while in the former one man has to take it upon himself to do it.
That is where the risk is, and more importantly, the talent is.
Malawi’s arts industry is a virgin land. What happens or has blossomed in other parts of the world is yet to happen here. There are huge gaps that have to be filled. This however should not evoke cynicism in those who would love to see the industry growing. There are little baby steps that are being observed and with time, there will be change and one day we will stand up shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world.
But let us take time and reflect on the standup comedy part in Malawi. To this day, there is no standup comedian of repute in the Malawi industry. The face of the industry in Malawi is Andrea Thonyiwa, a man who trades by the name of Mr. Jokes. The name says it all that his life revolves around jokes. It is his trade.
A section of the Malawi society seems to have embraced him. He has been doing his comedy for years now. Apart from it, he is also a Master of Ceremonies for events like weddings.
He is a good public speaker and full of confidence when he is before them. But the quality of his said jokes leaves a lot to be desired.
They are not out of his creative mind, where a standup comedian links reality and amusement. All of his work is fiction. In other words, they are the kind of jokes people tell each other in social interactions. He repeats and commercializes them, worse enough, with no additional content and delivery.
It reflects in his career as well. For the years he has been around, he has not grown as in his trade. He seems to be a man of no vision and is satisfied with the few people he has captured into his circle. He has specialized in putting his standup comedy on DVDs and selling them at a cheap price in cities and towns. People are seen buying them. It is good news for his financial gain, but bad news for the standup comedy industry in Malawi.
Mr. Jokes has not taken himself to be the man most people would like to invite if they want to laugh. Elsewhere in the world, making people laugh is a big business. There are many reasons people would love to laugh. Two of them are to do away with the stress and let some reality sink into them in a casual way. When standup comedians joke on how bad their countries or their political leaders are, people laugh, and inside, reality sinks in concerning the kind of country they are in, for example.
In Malawi there are a lot of things that one can creatively make jokes on. In sports, our national team, the Flames, continues to be the punch bag of other teams and in politics, the President and his fellow politicians keeps on making blunders which one can use on the stage to make people laugh. But instead of taking it that way, making jokes out of what people already know, Mr. Jokes has chosen to fictionalize everything as if his audience is a primary school class.
It also tells much about the hunger of Malawians for standup comedy. Patronizing weak jokes from Mr. Jokes shows that if something of quality can come around it will receive overwhelming support. But Malawi has curved a reputation of being a mediocre consumer. Whenever something appears, having the characteristics of the original material, it is wholly embraced.
Perhaps the blame should not rest on the comedians alone. Politically, Malawi is still one of the risky nations. You cannot joke on a political leader and expect to get away with it. People passionately love their leaders and are always ready to insult or kill for them.
This also happens in football for example. If one jokes about a football team, its supporters will insult you for it.
Most people are yet to learn the behaviour of differentiating a joke from a reality. There are not many people who are ready to see someone joking about things close to their heart.
But to break it, there is a need for someone who is ready to stretch the society and push it to the new limits. Someone has to come in and take the industry to the new deep end. Unfortunately, Mr. Jokes has proved not to be that made.
He is not a joker. He is a joke. We need another messiah. For those who are moving towards the standup comedy in Malawi, come out and let people sample your work. Malawi needs you.
About the writer: Wonderful Mkhutche is a speech writer, a political scientist and a manuscript edit