In recent years, Addis Ababa has seen a boom in underground artists, in part because of the city’s growing event culture, which is popular among the city’s younger demographic. Many up-and-coming artists from a wide range of artistic disciplines have been actively exhibiting their work and garnering critical acclaim. Stand-up comedy is one of the more flourishing artistic fields of late.
Stand-up comedians and stand-up-centric events have been on the increase in Addis Ababa during the past several months, with self-proclaimed comedians getting their own shows recently.
Pap, one of the Addis stand-up comics, says he didn’t realize there was a comedy scene until about two years ago. After seeing an hour-long special by a fellow stand-up comic, he realized the industry was moving slowly.
“The post-lockdown explosion of event culture surely has helped give a platform to stand-up and live comedy evenings that have been gradually growing and gaining more popularity. We still do not garner the same crowds that, say, amateur musicians would, but there is a willingness among the youth to try out comedy nights as a viable entertainment option now-a-days,” Pap explained.
The popularity of stand-up comedy has grown in the last few years. Pap claims that the style is slightly more inspired by western comic traditions than those of earlier Ethiopian stage comedians. He says that stand-up comedians are no different from the rest of us and that they rarely perform on stages or at gigs outside of the once or twice a month that they do.
Their daily lives are rather mundane, according to Pap, save from their (perhaps naive) belief that they are funnier than the average person and attempt to make jokes in a way that will appeal to a wider audience.
Another stand-up comedian, Asayehegn Asfaw, who has performed on stand-up comedy platforms, maintains that an innate familiarity with stand-up culture has always existed. Since, in his opinion, not many people are interested in the fine art of stand-up comedy, he attributes the problem to the professionals who do it.
“The comedy is there; comedians have been around for a long time in our country. However, it is difficult to say that there was stand-up in the past because there were comedians,” he said. The non-existence of the distinction between the two, according to him, has held back the stand-up comedy culture.
Since more people are becoming familiar with stand-up and younger Ethiopians are developing an appreciation for international stand-up comedy specials, Asayeheng thinks the culture is on the upswing, driving up attendance at stand-up performances and attracting new viewers.
Asayeheng is just one of many underground stand-up comics doing their part to popularize the culture. They’re collaborating on projects like “Enesak Central” to reach a wider audience.
The lack of artistic freedom is the biggest obstacle for Asayeheng as a stand-up comedian; he finds it discouraging that there are so many subjects they can’t talk about and so many acts they can’t perform without being seen as politically correct.
Most stand-up comedians worry that their jokes will offend audiences, especially those who are particularly sensitive to certain issues. Asayeheng also discussed the risky nature of making a living through stand-up comedy.
In addition, he emphasizes the difficulty of mastering the craft due to the diverse levels of humor among people. In spite of these obstacles, he is confident that stand-up comedy will continue to develop and flourish, and that it is only getting started.
The past few weeks have seen a proliferation of stand-up comedy shows like Sak Central and Shifta Comedy Night, where a rotating cast of comics perform for an audience. A fan named Samson Seleshi who saw one of the shows was overjoyed to see that the work he had admired on a global scale was now available in Ethiopia.
“It was actually my first time attending a stand-up comedy show, and, as an avid watcher of stand-ups by international comedians, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, adding that he was left pleasantly surprised.
“It was actually an amazing show, and I can see that it has a future.”