Step-by-step: How Rwanda’s comedy came of age

Standup comedy is rapidly growing around town. Last Saturday saw the branding of Arthur Nkusi as a professional stand-up comedian.
Arthur Nkusi during a show. The New Times/ Courtesy
Arthur Nkusi during a show. The New Times/ Courtesy

Standup comedy is rapidly growing around town. Last Saturday saw the branding of Arthur Nkusi as a professional stand-up comedian.

He thrilled the audience at Kigali Serena Hotel with jokes for one and a half hours straight, a feat no other stand-up comedian has ever done in Rwanda.

According to Nkusi, the Comedy Night was a huge success considering the state of the industry years ago.

“We started as ‘Comedy Knights’ in 2010 mostly using internet jokes to entertain people which moved the audience in spite of  our lack of local content at the time,” he explained in an interview.

“As a group of three, we started meeting often, coming up with our own jokes as we tried to move from sketch to stand-up comedy,” he said.

Nkusi said the evolution is much needed in the country because comedy is an art on its own.

“Before we used to stage shows at the Ishyo Arts Centre, which we still do now, and at the same time get more comedians from the audience to join the group,” he explains.

He commended Carole Karemera, who headed the centre which provided them with the platform to perform for their ever growing comedy fans.

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious. I tackle serious issues in a funny way so I don’t think someone can sit down to listen to stupid stuff,” he said.

As the artist explained the transition of how Rwandan comedians today need to re-brand to make the industry professional with originality, his colleague at KFM, where he is also a presenter, popularly known as Uncle Austin, shared a joke with him which he hopes he will develop for his next gig.

“We share jokes here at work and everywhere I go. Each of us always moves with a notebook and a recorder to jot down anything that captures my attention. At the end of the day, we sit down and build on them while deciding which joke suits who in the group,” explained Nkusi.

For the comedians, rehearsing depends on individuals; some of them rehearse in front of a mirror or a fan just to be sure that the joke will be funny for everyone.

This effort shows how the future is bright for the Rwandan comedy industry.

Countries in the region have tasted astounding success in this area. Kenya’s Churchill show and Uganda’s Pablo have really pulled it off in the industry over the past few years.

To catch up with them, Nkusi said comedians, especially the youth, need to form their groups and also launch their solo careers in the industry in order to create more competition which makes them better at the art overtime.

“Rwanda is now open to new ideas like stand-up comedy which wasn’t there before. To see talent like Arthur’s pave the way for the industry to develop and expand across the region is such a great honour especially for the upcoming generation,” said James Ruhimbana, a comedy fan.

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