SOAS University of London

Centre of African Studies

Politics of Humour, Humour of Politics: Stand-up Comedy and Nigeria’s Political Imaginary



Date: 1 October 2018Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 1 October 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429

Type of Event: Conference

As a verbal art form, stand-up comedy functions primarily as a creative site for entertainment and as a veritable conduit for physical relief and psychological therapy. Stand-ups fulfil these governing aspirations through the instrumentality of dripping humour or running laughter. By employing cathartic strategies to appeal to the cognitive sensibilities of audiences, stand-up comedians appropriate their artistic energies in imaginative ways to inscribe their art and their individual identities into the popular imagination and national consciousness. However, stand-up comedy also achieves other alternative possibilities which are sometimes not adequately acknowledged or given sufficient scholarly attention. This alternative gestures to the art’s engagement with issues of a political character and temperament. Thus beyond the logic of entertainment and relaxation stand-ups are consistent with, they also volunteer serious and substantial commentaries which negotiate political trajectories and interrogate institutional practices.

In Nigeria, stand-ups are brilliantly accomplishing this objective in creative and novel ways as stand-up comedians mobilise their artistic resources and agency to comment on political events, many times with a transgressive vision and censorious edge. In this paper, my animating concern is to engage Nigerian stand-up comedy as an emergent art which has taken the Nigerian entertainment landscape by storm in similar ways the Nollywood film culture and cult-following football have done but also to identify the social and political contexts which provided a fertile ground for its efflorescence. In my concluding argument, I will insist that the tradition of stand-ups has emerged as a powerful response to a corpus of political contradictions but also a range of social and economic conditions which conspired to precipitate the art’s enduring engagement of serious national issues with humour and laughter.

James Tar Tsaaior is a professor of Media and Cultural Communication. He has taught for nearly two decades in Nigerian universities in Ibadan and Lagos and has conducted research in many universities around the world including Cambridge, UK as a visiting research fellow, Princeton and Columbia, USA, Rhodes University, South Africa, Cairo University, Egypt and Qatar University as a visiting scholar. He has been awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers in Germany for 2018 – 2019. His research interest is in postcolonial literatures, literature and digital media, popular culture, media and film studies and he has published widely in these areas. His latest publications include: ‘“New’ Nollywood Video Films and the Post/Nationality of Nigeria’s Film Culture” (RAL Spring 2018) and Nigerian Film Culture and the Idea of the Nation: Nollywood and National Narration (Adonis and Abbey 2017).

Chair: Dr Oliver Coat, Cambridge University

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Organiser: SOAS Centre of African Studies