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The joke of ragged clothes

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Art is the representation of the real world yet the local scene has seen exaggeration of poverty as rags are commonly used in a comedy.

Comedy is surely meant to strike laughter or, perhaps, relieve a burdened heart depending on how well the comedian presents the jokes. Unlike elsewhere in the world, in Malawi a lot of comedians believe that clothes and not humour are the heart of comedy.

While comedians like John Nyanga and Eric Mabedi add clothes to their absurdity, comedian Trevor Noah, in South Africa, do not mind going on stage in his tuxedo provided what comes out of his mouth invokes laughter.

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Comedy, in this case, is about a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance which results in a successful or happy conclusion.

Nonetheless, we all know that comedy is not a science but rather art therefore, there are no rules and it can be very subjective. Thus, what one person revels at, another might dismiss.

Comedy, on the other hand, confines itself to the imitation of nature, and, according to an English novelist Henry Fielding, the comic artist is not to be excused for deviating from it. His subject is the ridiculous, not the monstrous, as with the writer of burlesque; and the nature he is to imitate is human nature, as viewed in the ordinary scenes of civilised society.

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One thing worth noting is that when analysing comedy and what is funny, it is almost like it is only visible out of the corner of your eye. As soon as you try and look directly at it and analyse it too much, all of the funniness disappears.

But should humour be based on clothes alone?

In an earlier interview with comedian Mabedi, he said that comedy is all about creativity.

“It requires one to think fast and bring in something new on stage because everything is comedy therefore, you can create it out of anything. For instance, you can derive a comical play by just imitating the way someone dresses or walks,” Mabedi said.

For Mabedi, dressing also has an impact on comedy because one can dress in a funny way and be on stage and without uttering words; people can find it funny and immediately laugh thereby achieving the sole purpose of comedy which is to invoke laughter.

“However, Malawians lack creativity and therefore this is a huge problem. In most cases, they believe that what Izeki ndi Jakobo do on stage is the comedy as such, they copy that instead of exploring their own avenues since comedy has no rules,” Mabedi said.

Another comedian, Madalitso Nyambo, said comedy is something which emanates from presentation of jokes as such it is diverse.

“Different people find amusement in different things. A comedian may crack jokes on language differences, the absurdity of man, people’s dressing or former presidents through impersonating them, so, I can say it’s about wrapping different things together,” Nyambo said.

There is no simple answer as to why something is funny because comedy is funny when it captures a moment, contains an element of simple truth, it is something that we have always known for eternity and yet are hearing it now out loud for the first time.

Lecturer in drama at Chancellor College, Smith Likongwe, argued that comedy is often interlinked with humour. For him, comedy can generally be described as action or language that is aimed at making audiences have fun or get amused through laughter and a sense of relief. Issues are usually presented in a light tone and the ending is happy.

“For comedy to take place, the comedians need to have a target audience in mind although it is also possible to have universal comedy. The ingredients of comedy include exaggeration, surprise, emotion, realism and sometimes ridicule, mockery and hostility,” Likongwe said.

Likongwe said that there are no rules in comedy but those doing comedy need to be aware what conventions or theories they are using so that they are able to vary their comic performances.

“There is the incongruity convention or theory where the performers present something that is against conventionally accepted behaviour or thinking. This capitalises on surprise,” he said.

However, Likongwe admitted that there is some connection between clothes and comedy.

“This is only from the incongruity perspective. But all other types of comedy can do with proper or decent type of clothing. Even from the incongruity perspective it is not a requirement for all characters to be dressed inappropriately.

“What makes me sad is that some of the characters we watch here actually dress like madmen. That is going overboard and taking the audience for granted. There needs to be a difference between a poor man and a madman,” Likongwe said.

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