One thing that makes Dave Chappelle the great stand-up comedian he is today is how he has mastered the art of storytelling. His comedy style has evolved greatly from the humble beginnings where his art bordered a little bit on the caricatural and slapstick, where very many of his jokes were told for jokes’ sake, to the refined social commentary that his comedy has become today.
If he is widely considered the greatest comedian of his generation and one of the best of all time, it is because he has been able to poke holes into many things that make the fabric of American society – race, religion, capitalism and classism, politics, economic and social stratifications, sexuality etc – in a way that leaves a memorable impact on the psyche of the audience, and creates debates afterwards.
But if Dave Chappelle is able to paddle through these topics effortlessly and leave you reflecting after laughing, it is because he is also a very well-read and smart guy. His mother is an educationist, and he grew up in an environment in which he was allowed to think critically. He also went to an art school where he was encouraged to think out of the box. No doubt this sharpened his curiosity and his process of observation. As he grew older, this base training matured with him and it is reflected in how he approaches his comedy today.
Many parallels can be drawn between Kwoh and Dave other than them just being naturally funny people. Many people do not know this but Kwoh Elonge is a well-read and academically-accomplished fellow. He has two master’s degrees – in Sociology and Anthropology, and in Journalism and Mass Communication. And he will also soon be the recipient of a PhD in Educational Psychology. Kwoh Elonge describes himself as an overachiever who developed a love for writing at a very young age and as someone who has been writing since he was a child.
You know, for those who have been following Kwoh Elonge for a long time, it is very easy to relate the meteoric success of the Aunty Felicia character to platforms.
Kwoh Elonge started a platform called “Unfiltered’ where he wrote on a number of social issues and addressed a number of topics in entertainment, particularly in our movie industry. This put Kwoh Elonge on the proverbial map and his name began getting whispered in the corridors of our social media. Then came Freaky Table, a web show he was initially brought onto in an advisory role. When the very first guest failed to turn up for the taping, he was asked to take their place in front of the camera, and the rest is history.
Freaky Table put him in the eyes of even more Anglophone Cameroonians. And so when the Aunty Felicia character was launched, it was a natural progression for the audience that had become accustomed to his wit, humour and overall sarcastic persona on Freaky Table, as well as for those who had known him via Unfiltered. They quickly bought into the character and pushed it on social media and it has become what it is today.
But one would be amiss to say think that it is just thanks to the natural progression from these platforms that the character has received the buy-ins and acclaim it has had.
One of the things that many up-and-coming Cameroonian comedians don’t quite get yet is how serious one has to be to be funny – if you will permit the oxymoron. Being funny is serious business. Even if one is naturally funny, one can be funny only so long until the audience becomes bored of the act if it brings no tangents. Many American standup comedians test their material for months, and even years, on many small audiences in many small venues before they do a one-hour special. Being funny issa serious something.
In an interview with Clarisse Ndinge of BetaTinz, Kwoh Elonge mentioned that when he was creating Aunty Felicia, he developed a character arc for the character, and gave it a base personality and a background. This one little detail is very important because, with that basis, you can bring a million different scenarios, and it will be easy to put together how Aunty Felicia will react to each scenario. Pretty much like how we all know our parents and we can say how they will react ot a given situation. This gives a character a certain range in performance.
Any person who reads a lot I will tell you that Kwoh Elonge was able to think that way and create that basis because he reads a lot. It also helps that Kwoh Elonge has another writer on this team, Howard Meh-Buh Maximus, who in 2020 won a 13 million FRS grant that permitted him to take a year off in order to write a fiction. Howard’s presence underscores the writing that Kwoh already brings to the character and accounts for its potency.
Today our generation is facing a reading crisis. Not only do our phones distract us from valuable time that we would have spent reading and learning, but also the content we read on the internet is fast-food, written in a manner that is meant to be consumed really fast, to the detriment of the reader. Whereas, the real success of Aunty Felicia resides in all the cumulative hours of reading that Kwoh Elonge has done over the years he has spent on this Earth.
Writing earlier on the topic of Cameroonian comedians, Norbert Foy wrote: “The best comedians I know are philosophers in my eyes. People who can make us see the irony in some of our behaviour. People who can magnify our idiosyncracies in a way that makes us realise how ridiculous we can be…People who are well-informed on cultures and societies.”
There is certainly no way you can be that person if you are not intentional about being informed by these things. You can learn via curiosity and by asking genuine questions that make you learn new things, or by watching documentaries and of course by reading as much as you can to understand what is going on in the world and how the world works. These habits will give you an edge in whatever domain you apply yourself in – comedy no less – because you can bend and twist the many things you have learned to suit many situations and scenarios.
Reading novels and subconsciously learning about characters and character development helped Kwoh fashion Aunty Felicia, and give it a large piece of clay which can be moulded into many forms depending on what the story is.
And that is simply what really accounts for the success of Aunty Felicia