Apophia Agiresaasi, GPI

Ugandan Comedian Challenges Gender Roles in Male-Dominated Profession


Article Highlights

Comedian Anne Kansiime seeks locals’ opinions on current events as a co-presenter on the television show “Minibuzz.”  

One female comedian in Uganda is cracking jokes that challenge the country’s perceptions of women and earn laughs from both male and female audiences.

KAMPALA, UGANDA – Ugandan comedian Anne Kansiime, 27, portrays a wife temporarily separating from her husband in one of her popular sketches.

The sketch opens with the troubled couple exiting a restaurant, she says. Then, the wife offers her husband a packet of condoms.

“My dear, you are going away, and I know you might fall into temptation,” Kansiime says, demonstrating the wife’s lines. “I trust you, but I don’t trust the women you relate with. Have this pack of condoms in case you fall into temptation.”

The husband accepts the condoms but reprimands her for her lack of trust.

The wife then asks him to leave some condoms with her as an additional precaution, Kansiime says. But rather than oblige, he flies into a rage at the idea that other men might tempt her.

Kansiime often uses comedy to explore relationships, gender roles and double standards. But men and women alike find her routines refreshing in Uganda’s conservative society, she says.

Comedy is a popular pastime in Uganda, but men dominate the scene, Kansiime says. She estimates that there may be four professional male comedians for each rising female comedian.

“Male comedians are just warming up to the facts,” she says. “We are here to stay.”

Female comedians fight an uphill battle, Kansiime says. They have a difficult time pulling off certain jokes because society holds them to different standards.

“As a woman, you cannot crack tribalistic or obscene jokes,” she says. “Yet a man can crack them and get away with it.”

Her comedy challenges Uganda’s traditional patriarchy, she says. Conservative Ugandans expect women to submit to men, but the women in her sketches are anything but submissive.

Kansiime did not always intend to challenge gender stereotypes through comedy. She graduated from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, with a degree in social sciences in 2007.

But friends showed her that she was an entertainer, she says. She realized she was talented when they asked her to tell them her version of stories.

That talent grew on the radio after graduation. Kansiime lent her voice to local radio drama Rock Point 256, which broadcasts episodes about health, empowerment and social issues.

Since then, Kansiime has never shied away from tackling social issues with her material. 

For the past three years, she has sparked debates on current events as a co-presenter of “Minibuzz,” a television show featuring commuters’ opinions on news and culture during their minibus rides to work.

Kansiime’s comedy delves into issues that affect all Ugandans, such as infidelity and domestic violence, says Ssanyu Kalibbala, a senior producer for Made in Uganda TV, which is the network that airs “Minibuzz.” That universality contributes to her success.

“Her humor appeals to almost everybody,” she says. “Children, elders, housewives – all think she is funny.”

Dithan Musoke, an Internet cafe owner in Kampala, says he typically finds men funnier than women are. But Kansiime’s confidence makes her funnier to him than most women.

Kansiime is popular because she is unpretentious and even retains her regional accent during her skits, says Constance Obonyo, a freelance writer in Kampala. She uses her skits to represent and empower average Ugandan women.

Obonyo says she particularly enjoys a sketch in which a heroic woman takes control of her health by forcing her reluctant partner to take an HIV test.

One of Kalibbala’s favorite sketches by Kansiime shows that women can stand up to men in its portrayal of a couple bickering about birth control. Kansiime represents herself in a way that empowers girls and women, Kalibbala says.

“She is not objectified,” she says. “She is an example that you don’t need to objectify yourself to be funny or to make it.”

Various venues invite Kansiime to perform because of her self-confidence, she says. Her frequent invitations are a sign of her success in a male-dominated profession.

Readers of the daily newspaper the New Vision have also nominated Kansiime as a candidate for Best Female Comedian of the Year for three consecutive years. Although Kansiime won the title each year, she still aspires to loftier accolades.

“I am yet to receive awards,” she says. “Being mentioned as Best Female Comedian of the Year by newspapers is not that big.”

Meanwhile, Kansiime uses her success to encourage other female performers. Together with two other female comedians, she co-hosts “Queens of Comedy,” a monthly show at Kampala’s Laftaz Comedy Lounge that opens the floor exclusively to female comedians.

Kansiime uses her comedy performances to show women the brighter side of life in a traditional society, she says.

For example, one sketch portrays an impatient woman who has been dating a noncommittal man for seven years, she says. The woman takes matters into her own hands and proposes – an anomaly in Uganda.

Portraying women as strong in her skits is her contribution to the women’s liberation movement, she says.

“I depict the woman as victorious in almost every sketch,” she says. “I depict the woman as the one who will survive.”