Diogene Ntarindwa, known to many as Atome (French for atom), a name that was given to him in high school because of his tiny size, is a playwright, comedian and MC but mostly known for his comic acts and may come off to many as naturally witty.
This he says dates back to his childhood.
“As a kid, I noticed that children were interested in my version of the story. This is because I love to tell serious stories in a lighter way, if possible with jokes,” he says.
Paradoxically, the 40 year old reveals that his daily life is actually graver, contrary to what he is on stage. Meeting him for the first time offstage would never reveal an impression of a comedian. Even though chatty, his passion is in sports, reading and literature.
“My universe is not that comic where I watch movies and comedy. I read a lot and I spend a lot on books with 98%of them being about politics, East African history, or War. I can pay thousands of dollars to visit historical sites,” he says.
His favorite book, he says, is the Bible and loves to pray before and after every performance.
I ask him how through his stern personality, he has managed to successfully grace comedy shows all this while.
“I love to be able to tackle issues in multiple angles. I aspire to learn because my work requires impacting on society in different perspectives and so I have no excuse.
I take some time off to travel and learn about the environment, talk to people and discover my surroundings which eventually nurtures my work and deepens it because I was not born in some of the cultures. I am talented in imitating accents, which surprises many people,” he says.
This, to him, explains how he has mastered the art of tackling different areas in his jokes.
He adds: “I also don’t like to judge and hit on people on stage even when I can, because that is something that is not Rwandan. I give my audience that chance to discover the message because the stage is an opportunity for me to tell a story in a simpler and different way and not to impose my judgment on them. My job is to influence people in a positive way.”
A professional lawyer, Ntarindwa ditched law to pursue a four year acting course in Belgium where he eventually mastered the French accent. Through his acting course he has travelled over 50 countries worldwide, showcasing mainly, Rwandan stories and history in plays and standup comedy.
“People worldwide get the impression that Rwandan story tellers only have sad stories of the genocide to tell. To create a different impression, I use different formats of telling my stories and I am always the first one to laugh about my jokes. That sets in a different mood and impressions that things in Rwanda are not all gloomy.”
Most of his plays are tragic comedy because “it is also important to cry as much as it is to laugh. I want to engage my audience in tears and laughter starting with me.”
“After my acting course, I ventured into writing and publishing books and plays, because I always wondered how it would be possible for my children to learn their history from foreigners when we have the talent and the skills to do so,” he says.
As a professional corporate emcee, the job was never intentional.
“I never decided to be an emcee. People just appreciate my humor.”
“I am majorly a corporate emcee because people know my passion for having vast knowledge on various topics and learning more, which is another reason for me to read widely because its either you know or you don’t, you cannot improvise. When people begin to familiarize with my work, I invent something new, where through my observations I am able build stories,” he says.
He has a trilogy plan which is about the Rwandan liberation struggle that will be showcased in several countries and in his annual ‘Irekure’ shows.
“One of them will be about women derived from a legendary story of Ndabaga. Another one is Carte d’identité (identity card), a tragic comedy about my personal background, exile and life in the army. Another play is hate radio about the genocide with a sense of humor.”
“I decided that I will be telling stories about our liberation but with only the elderly people on stage telling and acting stories of the current generation,” he concludes as he readies himself to go on a jogging spree.