By Jeanne Ongiyo
Humour has played an important role in Kenya’s entertainment industry. Judging from the large number of comical productions making their way into our living-rooms through our television screens, it is safe to assume that comedy is the most preferred mode of entertainment in Kenya to date. Most of the humour derived from these productions is ethnic-based in that, they use characters who depict certain perceived or presumed ethnic stereotypes familiar to most if not all Kenyans. Perceived and presumed are terms that can comfortably be used to describe the situation as some of these ethnic stereotypes are far-fetched with little or no significance to the actuality.
It is also safe to say that the entertainment industry largely reaps profits from airing content that is primarily composed of such ethnic jokes but just like a coin has two sides, these ethnic based jokes that seem to crack us up every time we hear them are no doubt entertaining but also have a down side in the long-term effects they pose on the community. Most of these jokes are not only blown out of proportion but at some time they are seen as offensive to the community that is represented by the particular joke hence unknowingly stirring murky waters among the various ethnic communities represented in Kenya.
Some of the most common ethnic stereotypes that have constantly been portrayed by comedians over time is the love of money by our brothers from Central region whereas pride and prestige seems to be necessities and a traits that one is born with in parts of Nyanza. A violent nature is portrayed of members of the Somali community with their constant reference to firearms and other weapons of mass destruction in their conversations. It is no doubt that to every rumour there is some truth to it, but some of these truths are problems whose solutions should be found with immediate effect. Some of these jokes are also the cause of conflict among ethnic communities as some are not taken lightly. Some are rather implicated on communities by default though generalization. By generalization I mean observing one or two characters from a given community and automatically assuming that the behaviours they exhibit are general for all who come from the same community.
Not only do these ethnic based jokes make fun of people’s culture but they at times take it a little too far by making far of otherwise unfortunate incidences. A word like “Nyerification” made its way into the Kenyan vocabulary after a series of drunk men from Nyeri were savagely beaten up by their wives in a what seemed like domestic violence perpetrated by women towards the men. The joke was indeed funny at first but it eventually overshadowed the issue at hand…domestic violence, husband battery and the drunken nature of breadwinners in the society. The jokes are meant to offer comic relief in tense situations but taking the place of the underlying issue hence covering it and sweeping it under the rug gives the impression that it has been accepted that the problems we are making fun of are part of the normal occurrences in our day to day lives.
Aside from the negative effects that these jokes pose on the society, most of them have gone stale overtime with constant repetition of the same joke by different comedians. Seems like the same feeling you get when you listen to one particular song done by a bunch of different singers over a long period of time without any notable change in rhythm, lyrics or rendition. Not only do they become meaningless and tasteless but considerably boring. In terms of content production, if we do not up our game and desist from ethnic based comedy we are sure to witness the taking over of our televisions by Ghanaian, Nigerian and Mexican productions. Let us therefore not confine ourselves to comedy that is slowly losing its intended impact and also invest in other productions.
Opportunities should be created for the youth in Kenya in order for them to also make a name for themselves in the entertainment industry. Sure enough Ondiek Nyuka Kuota and Inspekta Mwala are characters that we have grown to love and hail with the respect given to legends but new faces and new blood in the entertainment not only guarantees fresh content but will also generate more proceeds. We will never get tired of interacting with these legends through social media platforms and the radio shows they otherwise seem to have taken over but as the saying goes a change is as good as a rest and therefore the likes of Makokha should rest and mentor others to take up their acting roles.
Comedy should not be totally banished from the entertainment industry but the approach taken by the comedians and actors to bring out this comical effect should however ensure that it does not interfere with the ethics and code of conduct prescribed to the media for the sole purpose of entertainment at the expense of morality. Limits set should not be crossed and neither should ethnic communities be given a reason to disagree by a mode of entertainment that was initially aimed at uniting them.