As Senegal catches comedy bug, young stand-ups seek wider appeal


Dakar, Dec 24 (AFP/APP):Stand-up comedy is taking Senegal by storm, with a crew of young comics gaining recognition well beyond the West African country's borders.  
              Shows with names like "Dakar fait sa comedy" ("Dakar does comedy"), "Fest' rire" ("Laugh Fest"), "Afrique du rire" ("African Laugh") are springing up across the capital Dakar.
              Some comedians already enjoy millions of followers on YouTube, Instagram or TikTok. Others play to standing-room only audiences in theatres.
              Their inspiration comes from French stars such as Jamel Debbouze ou Gad Elmaleh, both of North African descent.  
              And their humour tackles themes such as marriage and Senegalese mores and traditions although some subjects remain off-limits.
              "You can't make fun of everything in Senegal," says Babacar Camara, who goes by Abba No Stress on stage and is one of the country's leading stand-up comics.
              "You must not touch religion. Politics is also a sensitive subject." 
              In 2015 he started the "Abba Show", holding it every three months. Today, it has become a must-see event for many Dakar residents. 
              The goal, he says, is to develop new talent, but also to seek wider exposure for Senegalese humour.
              Abba acknowledges that, if they are to expand into international markets,  Senegalese comics will have to work more in French than in Wolof, the local language.
              But while they wait for international recognition, some are already local heroes.
              Moustapha Niang, alias Toch, is one of the revelations of the "Abba Show", which has helped to totally change his life since he launched his career in 2020.
              Previously a upholsterer, he is now courted by Senegalese television shows and has almost a million followers on Instagram.
              Another success story is 33-year-old Mame Balla Mbow, whose short videos have attracted hundreds of thousands of followers.

              But the path to success was not easy, he told AFP.
              "Many saw me as just a clown, someone without ambition," said the former law student who once wanted to be a manager.
              "Even my own family criticised me." 
              Today, he is one of the country's most famous comics. His face is splashed across advertisements, his videos sponsored by mobile phone company Orange create serious buzz and big brand names seek his patronage.
              Toch's earnings come largely from advertising. But most comics barely make ends meet, he said. 
              The sector is not organised, there are hardly any training schools, and financial insecurity is almost inevitable for anyone taking the plunge.

              At the French Institute of Dakar, artists were preparing to take the stage for a show to Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast.
              Behind the scenes, some paced back and forth, while others remain seated and staring ahead tensely. 
              Finally under the spotlights, Jordan got his show underway, cracking jokes about his romantic conquests, losing the thread, then getting back on track.
              Interrupted by an infant's laugh, he quips: "Ah, the baby's into it!" and the crowd of about a hundred laughs.
              "We knew you were there little one!" he says and the crowd cracks up.
              Next on is Pavelymafofolle who opens with a classical dance routine -- except she falls trying to perform a split in high heels, and the baby starts laughing again.
              "Hey kid, leave me alone! I'm trying to do a show," she cries, and the crowd erupts.  
              "Oof, it's always stressful", she says after she's finished her act, relieved to have won the crowd over.
              "You have to be really mentally strong to launch into this business."