Anne Kansiime: Laughing Away ‘Conventional’ Gender Norms

Written by Monday, July 8th, 2013 22:00
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Anne Kansiime Uganda comedy-2

Funny. Audacious. Outrageous.

Those are just a few words that come to mind when one thinks of Uganda’s Anne Kansiime (27), one of Africa’s increasingly recognisable comedians whose antics have had people all over the continent – and beyond – in stitches.

I first heard of Kansiime – whose full name is Kansiime Anne Kubinyaba – when a skit of her confronting a man who hisses his advances at her as she walks along the street went viral on Facebook. In the video, Kansiime’s character – livid at the man’s approach – turns the tables and demands that he give her his personal details so that she ensures that he does call her back to set up a date, as his advances imply.

The man is caught unawares by the dominance of her character and begins to look foolish.

When the link to the skit was posted on Her Zimbabwe’s Facebook page, a few female commenters identified with the scenario and offered their views.

Said one, “I like the way she completely disarmed him. All the little lyrics he had lined up just fizzled when the pressure was on. ‘Tis almost as though these guys who go around ‘sisisi-ring’ us think they know how we will respond to them and when one’s response is out of the ordinary, they freeze up. She sure showed him that she’s not just your average…”

“This woman did him good. Zim men are the worst at this psssst psssst. She is a genius,” replied another.

But a disruption of the norm is Kansiime’s comedic forte.  In many of her skits, she overturns ‘conventional’ gender norms to both comedic and emancipatory effect. In one skit, she is a boda boda driver, a public transport service generally reserved for men in Uganda. In another, she goes down on one knee to ask her partner to marry her, having become frustrated with waiting for him to pop the big question. In yet another skit, she plays a woman with nine children who refuses her husband’s advice that she go on family planning stating that it is high time that men took shared responsibility.

Soon, I began to notice friends from all over the world sharing links to Kansiime’s work and identifying their everyday lives in the scenarios she portrays.

Meeting the women behind the laughs

Recently, when I visited Uganda, I made it a point to track down Anne Kansiime, a task which I had thought would be much harder than it turned out to be. As it often goes, a friend knew a friend who could get Kansiime’s number. And so it was that within minutes of stating my interest in interviewing her, I was on a call with her arranging the logistics.

Anne Kansime performing live in Kampala, Uganda.

The Anne Kansiime whom I encountered in person was markedly different from the ‘devil may care’ characters she effortlessly portrays on Uganda’s popular Minibuzz show.

In real life, she is far more measured in how she responds to questions and scenarios.

She is a busy woman but manages to squeeze time in for our interview between a schedule of recordings and stand up comedy performances. On both occasions of our meeting, she is a picture of elegance – particularly on the first day wearing a bright blouse tucked into a knee-length pencil skirt; a look completed with a pair of peep-toe stilettos. On our second meeting, she is dressed down in golden pumps and a bright floral dress; a sheen of burgundy lip gloss complements a modest pat of makeup about her preened features.

“It is intentional that I portray women in these unconventional gender roles,” she states forthrightly. “I refuse to portray women as submissive or permissive, because we really are strong.”

She adds that through her work, she hopes for more women to become more authoritative about what they want and to speak for themselves.

“There aren’t many females of any position in leadership,” she says upon reflecting upon why there are so few female comedians across Africa. “Yes, we are starting to have a number of female politicians, but as with many other areas in society that have taken long to acknowledge women, comedy is lagging behind.”

As Zimbabwe’s comedy scene continues to grow with the likes of Carl Joshua Ncube and the satirical comedy show, Zambezi News, one issue that has become more pronounced is the lack of substantive female comedic acts; a trend that can be seen across the continent.

Kansiime observes that overwhelming pressure for women to conform to gendered expectations often pushes them away from comedy.

“If you want to be married and have a normal life, you wouldn’t normally get into comedy,” she says. “Women want to be wanted and not judged, and being a comedian welcomes judgement.

She also talks about the double standards women in comedy face in carrying out their craft.

“Some jokes are off bounds for women,” she explains. “A man can stand on stage and make sexual jokes throughout a performance, but a woman will be condemned. Her jokes must be cleaner.

Kansiime also offers a point of reflection for female comedians.

“Sometimes things don’t move when we work as women alone. We tend to be emotional and procrastinate in our decision-making.  Men don’t spend their time whining or talking about their script backstage. They are usually having a beer and not thinking too deeply about things.

The real Anne Kansiime

Kansiime is not shy to open about her vulnerabilities, intimating that she fears stand up comedy and can’t wait for it to finally become something fun for her as it often puts a lot of pressure on her.

She also opens up about her personality.

“If you see me cracking jokes when I am out and about and not onstage, it usually means that I am not feeling comfortable and trying to find my place in a space,” she confides. “I speak way less in person than I seem to when I am performing.”

It is the duality of her personality that she says has led to some disappointment in her private life.

“When I have a show and make people laugh, it takes so much out of me that afterwards, I can feel depressed – like the part of me I had has been taken away and I have nothing left,” she says.

Aware of her acclaim, Kansime – who is currently single – says she feels sorry for the man who will marry her as he must contend with the fact that she is “public property” and that often, she will give the best of herself to her audience, leaving little of that charismatic persona for her partner.

Her deep sense of understanding of self reflects her long journey to where she is today.

Kansiime shares a light moment with Mildred Apenyo, an executive from one of the advertising agencies working with her.

Kansiime shares a light moment with Mildred Apenyo, an executive from one of the advertising agencies working with her.

Kansiime, the fourth born in a family of six, holds a social sciences degree – a qualification she never felt enthusiastically about acquiring. She recalls how she spent much of her on-campus time with the theatre students wishing she could change courses as it was already quite obvious that she had a natural talent and passion for performance.

Upon completing her degree, Kansiime decided to change career paths and get into acting, starting out with Uganda’s Theatre Factory, now called the Fun Factory.  Her pay was paltry and she recounts how she had to sell pockets of potatoes at work to augment her salary.

After another job in advertising, Kansiime was picked up by Minibuzz from where she began to craft her popular sketches. She has been with Minibuzz now for over two years.

She is an ambassador for GOTV, has given performances in various parts of Africa, and has shows lined up in the US and the UK. She has also produced an album of rhymes for young children.

“I know I am going to perform on stages I don’t even know of yet, and even when I am old, I will be on stage with a stick.”

At the same time, however, she yearns for a time when people don’t take much notice of her.

“I didn’t set out to become this famous. It hasn’t sunk in. I am waiting for the day when people don’t take much notice of me anymore.”

For now, that time seems far off for Kansime whose star only seems to be on an exponential rise.

Last modified on Monday, July 8th, 2013 22:47

Fungai is a creative whose areas of passion are the written word (journalism and poetry), photography and new media. She is also the Founder and Managing Editor of Her Zimbabwe and describes herself as being on a continuous journey to self-discovery. She blogs at fungaineni.wordpress.com