In all the skits from Key & Peele, a popular sketch comedy series that originally aired on Comedy Central from 2012, the handsome and talented Jordan Peele transforms his act to Megan, an almost true depiction of a black woman. A talented actress, Megan represents all the quirks of a modern black woman from her dressing to make up, mannerisms and speech. She wears heels and can strut the hell out of any gravel road, let alone a catwalk stage.

When I discovered Key & Peele several years ago, I watched and laughed at how hilarious the duo was (for the cases where I truly related to their comedy). I marvelled at their remarkable acts; the ease with which Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele transformed into complex female and male characters, of diverse ages, nationalities, and sexual orientation, to render assignments on ethnic stereotyping, racism, and popular culture. They delivered each time, and when Jordan Peele transformed into Megan, for the few minutes of a tightly knit script, you could not imagine Peele as someone other than Megan.

The Black Lady Sketch Show premiered in 2020 and it easily became one of my favourite comedy skits on YouTube. I remember watching the Exit Row episode and repeating it a sinful number of times. It was just too funny. I also watched the other episodes featuring Chris and Lachel which I later shared to everyone in my circles. This was not a basic show. It was 4 minutes of humour delivered so flawlessly that I had to Google the name of the cast, mostly Chris. Boy, was I shocked to find that Chris was Robin Thede? That woman is multi-talented!

I loved that the show honoured black female actresses. It was honestly stimulating to see how the characters were portrayed. There was never a moment where I felt that the black man was unfairly represented. I am yet to see a truer depiction. Chris does not leave you any room to suspect that the character is biologically female. My opinion about the gender fluidity of the actresses didn’t matter because there was no loophole in delivery.

Social media is a fertile ground for upcoming comedians to draw attention to their own craft. Uganda introduced us to the brilliant and celebrated comedian and media personality Tumu Siime whom I started following in 2018. He was, in my biased opinion, the pioneer of social media skits where someone replicates themselves into 2 or more characters playing different roles. Tumu Siime is not your ordinary comedian; he writes scripts that do not hit you with the joke immediately. You must actively listen and watch his skits that grow on you and make you laugh so hard. Currently, he has a massive following of 386,098 people on his Facebook account from various Anglophone African countries since he mostly uses English. His jokes, whether involving his other gendered self, reflect on society’s daily happenings. He once did a parody, I carefully choose this word, to take a hit at the media dubbed How all African documentaries always look like. It was apt! But what I like about Tumu Siime is that he just dons a headwrap and represents himself as the female character he needs to be for the moment.

The Kenyan Comedy Scene

Eric Omondi considers himself the “king of comedy in Africa”, a moniker he adopted after winning the Best Comedian in Africa and the Africa King of Comedy Award at the African Entertainment Awards USA (AEAUSA) that was held in New Jersey on September 10, 2019. He came ahead of Nigeria’s Basketmouth and Uganda’s Salvado, two of the finest stand-up comedians in Africa. The prestige of the award notwithstanding, Eric has been in the game for over 20 years, but I cannot rack the storage in my brain for any joke worth remembering. Yet Eric commands a huge Facebook following, with over 2.1 million followers, built through countless musical parodies, product placement ads (a milk advertisement), Wife Material ‘reality show’ or ‘publicity stunt’ (nobody knows), a myriad of scandals and Andrew Kibe’s angry voice shouting ‘ERICA AMONDI’.

Beyond these, I’m mostly interested in his portrayal of women in comedy skits. Eric Omondi uses crossdressing as a form of theatrical performance to depict or caricature the character of a ‘slay queen’, a term which, in a patriarchal society in Kenya, attracts a tonne of negative and derogatory definitions. Eric wears dresses, wigs, make up, to portray ‘slay queens’ as women with the morals of a stray dog. He has, through his acts, created a perception of ‘slay queens’ as women who bedeck themselves wait for men to satisfy their financial needs.

KTN Home once aired a show Jameni where a man, Kelvin Mwangi alias Shaniqua played the role of a woman and became accidentally famous, before disappearing from the comedy scenes after a short stint because the act, partly hilarious and partly cringy, was not sustainable. He recounted in one interview how he got cast to play the character because the lady who was to be cast failed to show up. It was a streak of luck and he milked it dry until luck ran out. Still, I kept wondering how the female body and character can be commercialized without using an actual female.

Flaqo Raz, one of the fastest rising internet comedians uses the Tumu Siime comedy model. He not only cross-dresses but plays the roles of different aged women in different professions. He is a master of his craft, besides being a talented musician and has bagged several advertising gigs. One time, in a co-creation workshop with policy-makers they mentioned that they were using Flaqo’s aliases for sex education training. It was a welcome radical shift from using the usual electronic media advertisements and a chance at sparking a necessary sex ed conversation that uses social media platforms where youths and parents converge. However, I found it strange that they were advancing these conversations with a comedian whose character turned brand Mama Otis has mostly always been physically violent to a child needing compassion more than kicks. Flaqo must receive credit for the nuance he employs in depicting complicated familial Kenyan relationships, but such trends must be questioned.

There are jokes that African moms are funny, witty and even abusive (emotionally, physically and mentally) but the thing is a child cannot approach this parent who reacts violently to everything. As we have seen from Mama Otis’ skits, a mom helping a child with homework can turn violent so fast if the child does not understand the concepts being discussed. In a society where violence is so pervasive, laughing at things we should not have normalised in the first place is escapism that masks our collective trauma. Kenyan children deserve safe spaces beginning from their first parent-child interaction for them to develop into responsible and kind adults. We cannot normalise this type of parenting that glorifies violence at the expense of the physical and psychological well-being of a child. To use a brand whose content is miles away and the exact opposite from compassion shows a disconnect in the choice of influencers to drive social change.

Crazy Kennar is a personal favourite. I love the diversity of his content and how natural the acting comes to him. His work is hilarious. He also has skits about mother figures and is slowly transitioning to longer series formats for his comedy. There is one skit Ukijaribu kuibia mama wa Kayole I, often, go back to for a dose of laughter. It involves goons who want to steal a phone from one woman in the ghetto. This woman beats and overpowers the two petty thieves and keeps teasing them to come try steal her phone or is it wallet? While the reality of women who experience the brutality of strangers is different from what is depicted by Crazy Kennar’s aged female alias, it was refreshing to see a woman taking back their power. It was a needed break from the patriarchal portrayals of women as crazy, over the top, hysterical and man pleasing.

TikTok Comedians

Tiktok has changed the content creation game and lots of people churn out videos by the second. I am not on TikTok yet, I could be a techphobe, but I have been exposed to comedy skits reshared on other social media apps. The TikTok comedy skits, I have been exposed to, dating from Valentine’s Day, are basically male creators, wearing female clothes and wigs when the situation befits. And the situation is not necessarily dignifying to women. There is a particular video where the man involved is talking gossip. He is in full regalia: a wig, actually two wigs, a robe and the voice of a woman to complete it. The performance reinforces the stereotype that gossip is a preserve for women, a tool women use to share scandalous news about other people. In another video, a man costumed as and playing a female parent, sweeps the ocean instead of asking for forgiveness from a child presumably. He could have been a male parent but jokes that use female characters slap harder. Another example, is that of a pseudo woman cat walking then climbing over a flyover bridge and jumping to die by suicide because she has taken the dare to either die or talk to an ex. Are these skits reflecting on or cementing the (negative) notion that women are crazy in relationships?

This phenomenon, of men conveniently being women, to capture the profits of content creation is becoming rampant among African content creators, and specifically Kenyan content creators, but why the proliferation of negative stereotyping?

Women in Advertising Spaces

Over the years, women in Kenya for instance have been placed in ads about detergents, cooking oil, food and generally Fast Moving Consumer Goods. Our collective conditioning as a society, together with media framing have consistently relegated women to certain roles and spaces. It is common that a woman takes care of the household from washing clothes to cooking and shopping of household goods. These traditional gender roles have been replicated in billboards. Take for example the bar soap ad that celebrates three generations of women who use a certain bar soap. The advertisement in major billboard spots across the country does not explicitly say that soaps belong to women and women belong to soaps but the nuance cannot be missed. From a young age, you are exposed to the idea that women belong to the kitchen, and they cook for their families or wash for them which is not far from the truth.

Advertisers who would have opted for female comedians are now using men who are creatively fluid enough to be a woman for the pictures and other communication material. I have seen at least two ads which use Mama Otis (Flaqo Raz), as opposed to Otis (Flaqo Raz) himself. The context for the ads may call for a woman but it beats logic that a pseudo-woman would be used instead of a woman. Much as it is innovative and probably saves the advertisers’ some money, this type of casting leaves a lot of questions unanswered for me as someone who has been in the ad space for a while and understands the value of experiential marketing.

My position on this type of comedy that jerks off to making womanhood utterly ridiculous is unsavoury. Granted that these are emerging concerns as the industry evolves, I have a bias against the idea of pseudo women in headwraps and (un)flattering wigs filling ad spaces or comedy skits where actual women should be.

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