Kenneth Mujuni is a business man. One of the co-founders of a large format printing company called J-brands and the sole owner of Blues Bar and Pork Joint in Bwaise. When you meet him at Laftaz Comedy Lounge’s Wednesday comedy show, he is just another spectator. Clad in a striped T-shirt and blue denims, he looks every bit; an ordinary individual. Just another quiet soul in the crowd. He pitches camp somewhere in the dark of the audience so the stage lights don’t reach him. Occasionally, a number of comedians will follow him there. They will exchange what looks like banter for minutes before the comedians hit stage. Unbeknownst to the fans waiting for the stand-up comedians’ jokes, those comedians go to him when they have ‘funny’ problems. When they feel like their jokes are not funny. When they run out of creative oils to churn pun. He directs and produces comedy, a stance that many comedy enthusiasts and fans are averse to. He has produced a number of stand-up comedy skits for Herbert Segujja who has Teacher Mpamire and Mendo for stage names. He produced a number of Afande Kere Kere’s successful shows. Atop being the creative hub for Laftaz Comedy Lounge’s power house comedians like Dolibondo, Smart, Omuekebete, Bright Onak, Arthur D’Vaccine, Nancy Kobushere (protégé), Dorah Nakagga (protégé.)
Yet he deliberately takes a back seat in the comedian’s spotlight train. His unsung creativity continuing to incessantly oil the turbines that ignite their eventual and/or timely propulsion into stardom. He rarely practices comedy, but when he does with his home group; Fun Factory, his stage name is Ken Van Muk. Which sounds like a Karamajong sandwich but according to him, it borrows from the Dutch name protocol to simply mean; Kenneth from Mukono.
Ken Van Muk is a professional teacher turned stand-up comedian. “I graduated from Makerere University with a bachelor of science in Education. But stopped teaching when I realized comedy paid more. During my time at the university, I was teaching a school in Kawaala where I earner 250k per month. Yet I failed to raise 500k after a period of 4 months because the management wasn’t paying. The decision was made when I did 2 comedy gigs and got 750k in one week. It was a decision even a toddler would see. I had found my calling. It was much more fun to think of jokes than scheming and drawing lesson plans,” relays Van Muk.
Raised in Mukono by parents; Zephania Lusebeya(father) and Annet Nanyonga Lusebeya (mother,) Van Muk’s childhood was punctuated by stubbornness. He lived and saw everything from behind a comical prism, and because of that, his family nick-named himFujo Fujo.
“I was stubborn, and the Fujo Fujo name at only 3 years of age served to make me believe that family and society had accepted me like that. And representing my primary school; Kanita Education Center, while giving a stand-alone speech at district level served to cement that notion. Because after that, I was always confident before an audience. So much that when I was enrolled at Nile High School, Mukono in my form 1, I quickly became popular because I participated in all the debate sessions at school, and mostly because my points were peppered with witticisms. After that came a series of involvements in drama and comedy skits in school. Later, in my A-Level at the school, after I had inadvertently honed the art of mimicking teachers to the point where they no longer took offence, I realized I had the talent. So I ventured into performing shortly after joining campus in 2009. I debuted at Mic Check and after being denied the necessary stage time, I broke off from them and founded Punked Bunch which then comprised of Bright Onak, Omukebete, Ivan Kyeyune, Ronnie Mc Vex and Brain Wash. It performed at Club Silk and was managed by Rafsanjan Tatya and it always had a full turnup! The team separated when our contract their ended. I have since taken on producing, writing and directing comedy,” says Ken Van Muk.
Although deemed a profitable venture of late, Ken Van Muk doesn’t say the same about Uganda’s comedy industry.
“The investments I have are not out of comedy. The industry pays, but my level of popularity hasn’t garnered me that much money! I have refused to be a victim of exploitation. Many extremely talented comedians outdo themselves under the premise that performing every so often will garner them gigs and eventually money. Unfortunately for most of them, it’s burning out. They obliviously exploit themselves to a point where the crowd has gotten tired of them and their jokes. A reason my achievements in comedy are not in assets. But rather, having hit every big comedy stage there is in Uganda’s comedy industry. I also performed twice at Uganda’s version of Africa Comedy Club that airs on Comedy Central, a DSTV channel as opposed to the 1 time many of the local comedians were given. To me, that is a recognition, that when put together with the other stages I have been at makes for a big stride,” relays Van Muk
Like any other trade, the comedy industry has challenges. According to Van Muk, Uganda has a lot of talent. Yet none of that talent is paid it’s worth.
“In Uganda, unless you have made it to the top, the authenticity and weight of your craft doesn’t matter. You are never paid what is proportionate to your craft. Instead, many comedy managers, and I am not pointing fingers here (as they are also trying to survive,) will exploit a comedian till they are off the grid and the audience no longer likes them because they have exhausted their jokes and creativity. There is also the effect of over being in people’s faces! They just get tired!
There is sabotage by fellow comedians. If you’re not friends with the comedian in charge of making a lineup for a gig, you will be ignored regardless of how many times your name is fronted! Even if it’s for gigs that fall perfectly in your style of comedy. This has happened to many young comedians,” says cites Van Muk.
Handling Burning out in comedy
The media has many a time, labeled seasoned comedians like Alex Muhangi, Pablo, Bright Onak, Anne Kansiime among others as burnt out. The same lot has been accused for failing to move on from tribal and sexual jokes as a survival cache. Yet when most of them had that question slapped in their faces, they fidgeted. They started mentioning gigs they perform at to validate their careers. Something that Ken Van Muk didn’t do. When asked if a comedian could burn out, his was a balanced answer.
“Many local comedians start out scripting but stop shortly after getting into the spotlight. They stop rehearsing because they feel they have gotten there. And that is what many people term as a burn out. It is vital to peer review jokes with fellow comedians before going on stage. Sometimes, your closest comedians understand your humor most and they can direct a joke to evoke the desired thunderous applause,” relays Van Muk.
When asked why local comedians dwell much on tribalism and sex and how that stance has made most of them irrelevant and deemed no longer funny by their fans, he said; “If someone makes it up there as a comedian, the fact that they are funny is indubitable. Everyone who performs and is paid for a show is funny. It’s the audience that however directs the prevalent jokes. There are politics, poverty, family, work place, and business genres yet for some reason, the Ugandan audience mostly appreciates sex and tribal jokes. For they are easier to associate with. There are many comedians who however can and have successfully pulled off other genres of comedy because they go the extra mile doing their research and rehearsals, but they will also tell you a sexual and tribal jokes are the easiest yet they have the biggest reception!” explains Van Muk
Comedy tip for younger comedians
“A comedian should know when to leave stage regardless of how good the jokes has been. If you get the Big applause after a series of sizeable ones, leave the stage.
Comedians should also hire producers. People to write, review and direct their comedy. It’s them that can see and direct your career,” urges Van Muk.