The new funny: How social media is disrupting comedy in Nigeria
Sometime in 2011, an aunt sent me an audio message on Whatsapp. It was the singsong voice and accent of a middle aged woman from the South East admonishing the youth to avoid being what she termed ‘a waste’- except that she pronounced it ‘weist’, or something like that, with a thick heavily-inflected tone infused with Igbo ‘ethnic interference.’ The recording had just the right dose of playfulness and wit to make me reply to her text with ‘LMAO.’
That skit had a whole nation, who recognised the character caricature of the heckling, inadvertently funny Igbo madam, in fits. The irony is that this Igbo madam would be feared by her henpecked charges, unable to laugh at her antics. Yet, in parody, she was hilarious, and I could belly laugh without worrying about the reprimand that would follow. As send up, it was effective and timeless- an instant classic. It was also short, a quickfire burst of hilarity, which I could consume between piles of work.
The singsong voice belonged to Chigurl, AKA Chioma Omeruah, one of the many voices in comedy that has been fostered by the rise of social media. She has since grown into a multi-talented sensation, appearing as a stand-up comedian, in music videos, as a compere and YouTube doyenne with a huge following. Her work has gone viral in a way that seems to be peculiar to the comedy genre: Short sharp skits have taken over Nigerian smartphones so that sharing video and audio of these instant hits has become a national pastime.
Many comedy careers have taken off on Instagram, Facebook, and especially Twitter where the rapidity of conversation means that a skit can be absorbed and deconstructed by thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Twitter has become the natural home of online skits and one-line quips. In truth, everyone is funny at some point, and the platform allows for users to microblog a throwaway thought whenever it arises, without the pressure of building it into a narrative or a production that might keep the audience entertained for several minutes or hours at a time. In short, Twitter provides the opportunity for this humour to surface every now and again as opposed to the sustained funny that a stand-up comedy show requires. A 140-character tweet does not call for any more than a cursory glance. For Nigerians- ever ready with sharp tongues and saucy wit- this innovation is gold.
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