Interview: ‘What the African Said…’

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We ask the multi-talented and Britain’s Got Talent star Daliso Chaponda what makes him tick – and why the UK is the perfect place for his style of comedy.

You are Malawian but born in Zambia, have lived in various countries across the world, including Thailand and Switzerland, were educated in Canada and now live in Manchester. What effect has this had on you?
I am a melange of cultures. I cook Thai food, have a hybrid accent with soft ‘r’s and long ‘s’s. I have very flexible views because I have lived in such an assortment of cultures. A lot of my friendships are maintained primarily on Skype!

Do you spend much time in Malawi/Africa nowadays?
I visit Malawi annually, usually for a few weeks. I also pop over to whatever country wants to put me on a show, so last year I zipped down to Kenya and South Africa.

What is your favourite thing about Africa?
The positivity. I am generalising massively, but overall, I have found western cultures are more cynical than African ones. Of course, there are a few African moaners and groaners, and a few happy-go-lucky Westerners, but I expect more positivity and faith when I visit Africa.

Do you have a favourite place in Africa, and why?
South Africa is a mad zany place with laughter, dance, lots of loudmouths and marvellous food. I have had a lot of my best times in South Africa.

What inspired you to become a comedian?
I think I was a comedian before I knew what it meant. I would say nonsensical things at school to make people laugh. I was in a debate club but used humour rather than logic to get my point across. When I tried to woo the opposite sex, in the absence of rippling muscles or perfect cheekbones, laughter was my technique. Eventually, when I saw my first comedy gig in Canada it was an “Oh, so that’s what I am” moment.

Why have you chosen to live in England? Do you think you will live here for the rest of your life?
England has a lot of comedy, and the exact same sense of humour as me. Maybe it’s because I went to British schools in Africa, but the books that shaped my sense of humour were Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens and watching Black Adder and Mind Your Language. I like to tread close to the edge and the British love that. You are stuck with me, Brits! I love it here – except the cold. If there’s a warm England, see ya!

In 2017 you came third on Britain’s Got Talent. What was it like and how has it changed your life?
It was fun and scary during it, and has been totally life-changing since. I am on a 54-city sold-out tour, have a radio show, and other things in development that I can’t confirm yet. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t done BGT. It was a career trampoline!

You like to tell jokes about ‘stuff that matters’. Why is this?
It’s what I think comedy is for. You take the teeth out of scary things, laugh about things that are frustrating. My favourite movie is ‘Life is Beautiful’ which sets a comedy in a concentration camp, and after seeing it, I realised comedy can truly make light of any subject in an uplifting way.

You’ve got in quite a lot of trouble for telling jokes in the past. What happened – and has that deterred you from using ‘sensitive’ subjects in your current acts?
I have had hate mail and got in trouble with the Malawi censorship board over jokes – but that is simply part of being an artist. It always has been: “Elvis is devil music”, “The Master of the Revels closing Shakespeare’s theatre”, “Lenny Bruce arrested for obscenity.” And actually, we are in a much more permissive time than previous generations. I have had abusive emails and paid a fine. I got off easy.

What do you think of the rising need to be politically correct?
I don’t think it has risen as much as people think. Lots of people, from Boris Johnson to Trump and Jeremy Clarkson, are massively politically incorrect and get people raging about them for a few days on social media and then it’s back to normal. Anne Marie Morris dropped the N-Word in a speech and is back in government after a short break. People like to say the world has gone all PC, but in practice I think it’s just some spheres, like art, but not politics or the local chip shop.

Who are you favourite comedians?
Joan Rivers, Chris Rock, Sugar Sammy, Sarah Millican, Woody Allen, Eddie Murphy.

Have you ever had a show that has gone extremely badly? What happened?
I was stopped at a university mid-joke and told that I had said enough. It was years ago though. I think I could do better with a rerun.

Your 54-date tour ‘What the African Said…’ is well underway. How’s it going?
Sold out, amazing shows. I don’t ever want to stop. I am already writing the next one.

Describe what people can expect if they go and see ‘What the African Said…’
It’s 90 minutes of insane humour, often treading on the line. I crafted it meticulously over the last year testing jokes out at multiple comedy clubs and I am very happy with the results.

What is the aim of your tour — what do you want people to take from it?
I just want to make people laugh, and if I make them think or discuss something they wouldn’t normally, that’s a bonus.

You are a writer and your fictions often focus on the fantastical: science fiction, murder mysterious and fantasy fiction. This is quite different from your politically charged comedic acts. Why do you write about this?
It’s actually the same – I just write to explore ideas.  Sometimes comedy isn’t the best place to explore an idea. For example, a bad relationship is great fodder for stand-up comedy. But what about the grief of losing a loved one – I couldn’t necessarily do stand up about that, but fiction or a play would work.

You seem a multi-talented man: a comedian, author, playwright, radio host and club and corporate MC. Of these, which is your favourite?
Writing is the most fun, closely followed by doing stand-up comedy to a live audience. Those are the two I will keep doing no matter what.

What would you like to be doing in the future? / What is on your bucket list?
I want to do an arena tour one day, have a topical comedy TV show, and publish a humorous fantasy trilogy. Give me time and I’ll empty that bucket.

Catch Daliso on tour: visit dalisochaponda.com for information

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