When “The Daily Show” tapped South African comic Trevor Noah to take over hosting duties from Jon Stewart earlier this year, it simply confirmed what many on the continent already knew: African comedy is a hot commodity.
“Comedy is so central to everyday life here,” said Marie Lora-Mungai of pan-African studio Restless Global. “There’s such fantastic comedy in Africa that you have to do something around” it.
Restless’ first comedy series, Kenyan political satire “The XYZ Show,” has reached an audience of more than 10 million across multiple platforms. A Nigerian adaptation, “Ogas at the Top,” had more than 1 million views in its first three months on YouTube and Buni.tv, Restless’ online VOD platform.
Comedy is particularly well-suited to the digital age, with short skits easily uploaded and shared through social media. But Lora-Mungai said the two series’ biting satire has done more than just help the company to reach a broad audience.
“It has really contributed to brand-building, to giving us a particular image and DNA,” she said. “It tells people that we’re innovative and fearless. And that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
For Thierry Cassuto of South Africa’s Both Worlds, whose “Puppet Nation ZA” (pictured) was nominated for an International Emmy this year, satire has a way of getting auds to engage with a news cycle that can often feel bleak.
“What we want is to make people to talk about what’s going on in South Africa through the prism of comedy … and to talk to each other,” he said.
On a continent whose track record on free speech can be spotty, though, such conversations aren’t always encouraged.
It took more than a decade for “Puppet Nation ZA” to see the light of day, after a pilot commissioned by South African pubcaster SABC was shot down by its then-CEO. “He saw it and threw it right back down and said, ‘Burn it. Our people aren’t ready for this,’” Cassuto said.
But as it enters its seventh year, “Puppet Nation ZA” has not only managed to find a local audience: this year, Both Worlds signed a deal with Tiger Aspect to co-produce “Puppet Nation UK.”
With the launch of a comedy format, “Point of Order,” that it hopes to export across Africa, the company is riding the wave of a continent whose population is increasingly young, globalized, and unafraid to speak its mind.
For South African comic Kagiso Lediga, who’s preparing to bow a sketch comedy show, “The Bantu Hour,” pushing boundaries is necessary to create an environment where comedy can thrive.
“When comics feel they have a space to do a thing, they will do it, and it will flourish,” he said.