A question like, ‘does parody mean anything in comic world?’ is neither here nor there. Indeed, the best question would be, “can parody make a comedian scale the heights to ascend to presidency?”
The answer to the above question is a resounding YES. There may have been comedians who ascended to presidency without my knowledge – yes. Moreover, there are a few exceptional cases where comic relief made youthful comedians to scale to the highest echelons of power in some nations. (Though not a comedian per se, the Republic of Madagascar just had a disco jockey, Andrew Rajolina, as their president at 34).
Even before we discuss their exploits, and the comic path that took them there, it is a natural thing – even for comedians – to have aspirations. A comedian who specializes in parody, as a subgenre in comedy, must therefore be prepared for a rough and bumpy terrain ahead. For example, when a comedian mimics people in authority, and satirically casts aspersions on their demeanor, the comedian will have entered an unpredictable balancing act situation. He or she may not be sure of how things are going to turn out.
A bare-knuckled ‘war’
The reason behind these uncertainties is because, by directly engaging the people in authority, the comedian will have opened a bare-knuckled ‘war’ against whomever he may have mimicked. This is even much difficult if the person in question is a president. You may not project how someone in such a powerful seat is going to behave…
For instance, when Walter Mong’are, aka ‘Nyambane’, took to the stage to mimic the then Kenya’s head of state, the comedian got a round of applause from around the whole country. No one wanted to miss out on ‘Redikyulas’, the only comedy show in Kenya in early 2000s. (The group was composed of university students, which Nyambane happened to be part of).
A precarious approach
Although they got a lot of attention and admiration from around the country, that parody in itself was a very precarious approach to the world of comedy. These were the days that there was a dictatorial rule in Kenya, which had griped the nation with its throat. Anybody who dared to speak ill of the powers that would be, was equal to someone who had committed treason. Actually, those people next to power at that time used to say that ‘just a mere thinking that the president would die will warrant you a jail term; it is treasonable to entertain that thought’.
This comedian, Walter Mong’are, was actually the face of his entire team in this particular episode. Of course, he was the ‘president’. There were security personnel – and other ‘state officials’ who accompanies presidents during state events – attached to him.
There were two scenarios that awaited the audience immediately after the performance. There was either going to be arrests on the entire Redikyulas comedy team, or – they would walk free (a situation which was highly unlikely). But all the same, people had already been entertained.
The danger with making fun of a head of state is that there must always be consequences. This one, in particular, was similar to a daredevil approach to parody.
When the event was to start, people saw many vehicles snake their way in to the stadium – where the parody was taking place. There were planes that were crisscrossing the sky, saluting the ‘head of state’. Then ‘the president’ stepped forward. With the traditional stick (club), which had a rounded head, ‘the president’ flushed, standing alert and saluted back the planes that were crisscrossing the sky.
Until then, majority of onlookers still thought that this was an official function being presided over by the president himself. The set-up was so similar that anyone would be forgiven to have mistaken it for the real state function.
When he started to give his speech, the whole stadium got submerged into laughter and ululations. The comedian had prepared himself with every tool in his basket to unleash – and he did it with precision. It was laughter after laughter all day long.
An upper hand
Of course, many comedians have since popped up. But much appreciations have to be made to the pioneers of this art. That was not a mean feat that Walter Mong’are and the co. had taken. That single parody event gave them an upper hand in any other comic show that they’d apply to join thereafter. It also opened up many avenues where comedians would be involved – more so in corporate world where ads are the main fodder for higher sales.
Coincidentally, around fifteen years down the road, the master of parody, Walter Mong’are, ended up working at state House under another president (real story), as the man in charge of digital communications. As for the president who was mimicked, when he was asked on his take on the Redikyulas parody, he simply responded, ‘let the boys look on how they can get their daily bread’. At the end of the parody event, no arrests were made; that was to the surprise of many in Kenya…