Comedian Arthur Nkusi of the Comedy Knights still vividly remembers the group’s very first gig, at the Ishyo Arts Centre in October 2012. The group had earlier come into existence after he and two more up-and-coming comedians, Michael Sengazi, and Jerome Migisha came together with a view to cracking jokes for a living.
Today, three years on, the group marks its third successive year in comedy business with a concert dubbed; “The Comedy Night in 3D”, at the Century Cinema in Kigali. But it has not been an easy road, according to Arthur.
For that first show, the trio hired 12 more freelance comedians to come up with a huge cast of 15. One of the things that Arthur still recalls about the show is that, “our cast was bigger than the audience that came to watch the show”. “We made about Rwf25,000, which we had to share amongst ourselves, and everybody ended up receiving Rwf1,000 for transport”.
The show was a relative disappointment to the group, and Arthur knows why: “In the first place, we didn’t have real comedians in the cast. What we had instead were actors, but as we all know, all comedians are actors, but not all actors are comedians.”
It was a disheartening first attempt, but the group did not quit. Instead, the boys took time to address and practically tackle some of the group’s most pressing needs. So they scouted the place and managed to woo a few interested, aspiring comedians, ending up with the likes of Babu, Herve Kimenyi, and George.
The big break
It was in 2012 that the Comedy Knights finally got their own wings, with a few big corporate companies expressing interest in the comedy brand. “We worked with companies like MTN, Tigo, Unicef, WDA, and a few government agencies. Through that, the media started coming to us and giving us publicity like other artistes.”
Although the comedy brand as a whole was registering a steady upward trend of recognition in the local market, what still dogged the new breed of comedians was their relative lack of known individual profiles.
For Arthur, that problem was to be resolved when he found work as a comedian on an Evening Drive Show at KFM. His colleague Herve got a similar job at Radio10, while Michael had a stint on TV10, before moving on to Scanad, where he is a copywriter to this day.
Having got the much desired visibility, the group came up with the idea of a grand concert to cap a relatively successful year, and the result of this was the Comedy Night Unplugged concert held at the Kigali City Tower rooftop, and that attracted one of the group’s biggest crowds to this day.
This year, the comedians continued with their upward trend, both individually and as a group. In March, Arthur was named MTN Brand Ambassador, the reason you hear his voice in those MTN radio ads and see his images on the company’s billboards.
“I attend most MTN events because I’m on contract to crack jokes for the company. So it’s like I get paid just to be booked for a whole year, and during this time I can’t work for a rival telecom company”, he says.
Having started 2013 on a good note, Arthur observes that; “This year, it is more of working even harder, and earning from our sweat,” adding that; “these days, a comedian can walk home with Rwf60,000 after a show, when they used to get Rwf1,000 in the past.
About Arthur Karo-Karo
Karo-Karo did not start out as a comedian. Rather, his professional journey started at the Mashirika Creative and Performing Arts in 2004, as a professional dancer, actor and percussionist. With the group he managed to tour the US and UK, before suddenly realising that his acting seemed more interesting if done with a touch of comedy. “In 2009, I decided to start something of my own, using what I’d learnt at Mashirika,” he said.
His popular stage name is Karo-Karo (Mr. Checked), a name that he attributes to his love for checked shirts. (When the writer meets him for this interview, he is wearing one). “You’ll always find me in a checked shirt. It’s my brand for two years now. I just realised I love this style …and people love it too, so I decided to adopt it as my trademark, and now people know me as Mr Checked.”
As a standup comedian, Arthur’s skits and jokes usually revolve around the day-to-day happenings around the community around him. Like you will hear many jokes about things like
Umuganda, Cashpower, drunkenness (kanda amazi) etc etc …
He believes that “comedy is growing so fast in Rwanda that no single comedy show can flop”. He also likes to take some of the credit for the steady rise of comedy as a staple on most FM radio shows today, which are hardly complete minus a comic character to lighten up the mood. Arthur himself unleashes his comic antics on KFM’s Rush Hour, the drive show that he co-hosts with singer Uncle Austin.
“When comedy was introduced on radio, it showed the extent to which this form of entertainment was needed in the country. In fact, nowadays, many people no longer rate radio shows basing on the music played, but by the amount of comedy in it.”
Still, he contends that there are bottlenecks along the way. “We’re still few. Very, very few compared to our counterparts else where, for instance in Uganda and Kenya. Those with the true will to do comedy can be counted. I think they are not more than 12 in all.”
There is another problem. That problem is that; “most people think we comedians are stupid and crazy. People don’t even know that we actually sit down and write the scripts to our skits and perfect them before taking them to the audience.”
What does he do, away from the comedy stage and his radio slot? “The real Arthur Nkusi loves photography so much that whenever I have a camera with me, I feel safe. It’s a big time hobby.”
More to come
Presently, Arthur is pre-occupied with today’s The Comedy Night in 3D show at the Century Cinema, which is a commemoration of the group’s third birthday. After today’s concert, he has his sights on another concert slated for November 3, at the Kigali Serena Hotel, dubbed the Solo Unplugged Show. “The solo concert will be my stamp on the comedy shows we’ve had so far. I want to test the waters to see where my personal brand as a comedian has reached,” he says.
Otherwise, he is also putting the final touches to an upcoming comedy show that he will host on TV10 starting at the beginning of October. The show will go by the brand name of “Mr. Checked News”, and its slogan will be “duseke mubikomeye” (even in serious times we can still afford to laugh, so let’s laugh in our seriousness).
“I will be reporting news but without the ethics of a journalist. I will be the guy reporting about President Robert Mugabe’s Swearing-In today, when indeed it happened already.”