After the two Kings of Comedy shows last week, it is safe to say that Rwandans are greatly embracing the art of stand up comedy. However, it’s evident that the comedy industry still lacks gender balance.
In an exclusive interview with East Africa’s Queen of comedy, Anne Kansiime Kubiryaba, Women Today’s Doreen Umutesi finds out how the comedian and actress has been able to make her mark in the comedy industry.
“I know that stand up comedy is male dominated but surprisingly, my biggest support actually comes from them. For instance, at the last two shows of Kings of Comedy, they were more than happy to have me on board. They care for me and help me when I’m going through the material I have prepared before the show. They are more into helping me become better,” Kansiime explains.
She adds that the fact that she is a woman makes it hard to crack certain jokes yet her male counterparts can do it and get away with it.
“Given our conservative nature here in Africa, it’s hard for a woman to be as vulgar on stage as men. It’s one of the biggest challenges that I face as a female comedian,” she complains.
She adds, “The world got to know me like a year ago yet I have been struggling with comedy for the last six years. It was not rewarding back then. The other challenge is that it takes so long to become an established comedian no matter how talented you are. In the beginning, I would earn as little as ten dollars per month or twenty if it was a job well done. This money would not even help me with up-keep or even makeup.”
She says that the job is paying off well now and she is reaping big.
“I have achieved so much. Comedy is a lucrative business. Right now I don’t go around looking for jobs; jobs come looking for me,” Kansiime proudly says.
When asked to describe herself in a few words, she says, “I am an entertainer; I would like to be called a comedian but I’m an all rounder. I can sing. I can dance and I can act. I’m happy that I have a wide fan base,” she laughs.
“I’m scared and sometimes sleepless because I don’t know how I’m going to maintain this fan base by cooking up new stuff to keep them interested. It’s scarier having a fan base than not having any at all. For example, in Uganda people rarely write stories of success, they like to write stories of people that are failing. I’m humbled but scared at the same time,” Kansiime says.
Born in Kabale in Uganda 26 years ago, she is the fourth child in a family of six. She attended Kabale Primary School before joining Bweranyangi Girls Senior Secondary School. She is a graduate from Makerere University with a Bachelors of Arts in Social Sciences.
“I was a stubborn student but I was never suspended or punished in any way. When I completed school, I didn’t know I was set out to do stand up comedy. I just knew when I grow up, I would act. I had no idea that when I start acting I could do stand up comedy too. In fact, I didn’t know that stand up comedy was a career when I was at university. All I knew was that it was someone acting a funny play,” Kansiime reveals.
She adds that she was introduced to stand up comedy when she joined Theatre Factory which hosts the renowned Comedy Nite at the National Theatre every Thursday in Uganda.
“There is this gentleman commonly known as Pablo who used to do solo acts at the Theatre Factory comedy shows. I respected him and always asked myself where he got the guts to stand on stage alone and perform. On stage, I was always there with other people doing sketches. It was Pablo who inspired me and gave me the desire to one day go on stage alone and make people laugh,” Kansiime discloses heartily.
Regarding how her parents and friends reacted when she took on stand up comedy as a career she says, “Initially I was a joke at school and even at home. They knew I could act but they didn’t see it as a career. I would tell my friends that I was at the National Theatre acting, and I could see they were worried about me though they didn’t want to say it. But now they look at me and say I’m exactly where I deserve to be. As for my parents, they are the proudest and happiest parents in the whole of Kabale District.”
The naturally hilarious Kansiime also makes it known that she was extremely scared and nervous the first time she performed as a stand up comedian.
“The first time I performed alone, I wore a baby dress and was supposed to sing and recite a poem. I performed at cocktail corporate parties and spoke a lot of English and I thought that they would not laugh at my jokes. When I went on stage and held the microphone, everyone turned and wondered what the kid on stage was doing. I don’t think I remember what I even said. I was too scared.
“But I was overwhelmed by the attention I got from them. Shooting sketches and acting, I can do with ease but with stand up comedy, I’m always scared because if you’re not funny, there is no redemption for you, you die a natural death,” she says wittily.
The comedian says that although she was funny, even as a child, she didn’t know she would become an actor.
“My childhood dream was to be very rich but I didn’t know how. I also know that when I was young I was always on stage, signing or leading a choir. When it was dancing, I was always in the front row. I have been a performer since childhood. But I didn’t know that I’d turn out to be an actual performer. I wanted to grow up and be rich because my dad was a banker for like 35 years so I knew you have to work in money to make more money,” she recounts while giggling.
As it is in most African cultures, women are not encouraged to speak in public which contradicts what Kansiime does during her shows.
She explains, “I think I feel sorry for them right now. No matter how society chooses to put it, some of us have decided that whether society lets us speak or not, we are speaking. I wish to advise women who are scared about how society will perceive them that society will judge you either way. In whatever you decide to do, it will never make you a lesser female. So do the one thing you love and don’t do what you hate because society is judging.”
Besides being a comedian, she is also passionate about music and is in the studio recording a children’s album which will be released next year.
“I’m singing for children because they have been ignored for some time. I believe that in East Africa we need people to sing for children. Children are listening to music that is not suitable for them. But this does not mean that I’m quitting comedy,” Kansiime says.
When asked whether she is in an intimate relationship with anyone and how they feel about her comedy career, she says, “I’m seeing an Acholi gentleman and I prefer not to tell you his name so that you don’t go looking for him and ask him questions. He is very supportive and he thinks I have too much fun while doing comedy. He is actually so hilarious that sometimes I get most of my material from him.”
“I want to tell my Rwandan fans that I love them so much and I spend sleepless nights trying to maintain the relationship we have. I promise, I won’t cheat on you,” she says warmly.