Meet The Ugandan Comic Behind Trevor Noah’s 'Daily Show' Success

We spoke with Ugandan comic and 'Daily Show' writer Joseph Opio about his new gig writing jokes for Trevor Noah.

'LOL Uganda' host and new 'Daily Show' staff writer Joseph Opio (Photo illustration by Aaron Leaf)

“Blackness has tremendously increased at the show,” Trevor Noah promised shortly before his tenure on The Daily Show began in September. The “epidemic of blackness,” as Noah called it, refers to a wave of new hires, including the show’s new supervising producer, Baratunde Thurston, and two Ugandan-born staff writers.

One is the comedian David Kibuuka, previously based in South Africa. The other is Joseph Opio, a Kampala-born comic who rose to notoriety as the host of the political satire talk show LOLUganda, or as Opio refers to it, The Daily Show’s “shameless and poorer Third World cousin.”

Below, we speak with Opio about his new gig writing jokes for Trevor Noah.

Alyssa Klein for Okayafrica: Could you tell us about Joseph Opio? Where were you born and where did you grow up? Where were you living before your new gig?

Joseph Opio: I’m a qualified lawyer and a certified accountant; who just happens to earn a living as a standup comedian and screenwriter.

My mom thinks I’m a career disappointment. But the way I prefer to look at it: I’m the only person who can cook your books, provide a legal defense if the IRS presses charges and hopefully, convince a jury of your peers to laugh the IRS’ case out of court.

I was born and bred in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. But since 2014, I’ve been living in Manhattan, New York City; performing standup and writing comedy.

How did you get your start in comedy?

Well, I was on the Road to Damascus when suddenly, a bright light from heaven flashed around me and I heard a voice say: “Joe, Joe, why do you practise law?” Afterwards, I discovered that I was blind. Three days later, fish scales fell from my eyes and I started performing comedy. Hot damn! Wouldn’t it be “totes on fleek” if my start in comedy had the same dramatic narrative as Saul’s conversion to Paul? Yes! Oh well, what a shame!

The boring version: On completing law school, I was recruited to join Deloitte & Touche, one of the Big Four global accounting firms. I worked with Deloitte as a tax consultant for a year before I ditched it all to venture into the less predictable world of comedy.

We see that you're a political commentator and talk show host in your own right. For those that might not be familiar, could you tell us about LOL Uganda?

In 2012, I pioneered LOL, a weekly satirical half-hour program that remains the only TV show of its kind in East and Central Africa. During its two-year run on Ugandan screens, I singlehandedly wrote, hosted, directed, edited and produced every episode of LOL; which won instant fame for its irreverent humor and relevant sociopolitical commentary.

LOLUganda is both my Twitter handle and long-abandoned Facebook fan page. As an incurable Luddite, I’m very reluctant to cultivate a personal social media presence. So, LOLUganda is an online alter-ego that gives me that much-needed plausible deniability.

Was LOL Uganda inspired by The Daily Show? Prior to your move to New York, did Jon Stewart and his Daily Show have an influence on your work?

LOL was wholly inspired by The Daily Show. It was like a shameless and poorer Third World cousin to the more celebrated Jon Stewart version. I have watched The Daily Show for ages; starting with The Global Edition that used to air every Sunday on CNN. And yes, Jon Stewart's irreverent treatment of American and global politics was the primary influence on me pioneering a late night satirical show in Uganda.

What's Uganda's comedy scene like? What's your role in the scene there?

Sadly, Uganda’s comedy scene is non-existent. The entire comedy industry has been stuck at take-off stage since it started. As things stand, Ugandan comedy isn’t professional enough because there’s no money in it and there’s no money in Ugandan comedy because it isn’t professional enough. That’s the paradoxical crossroads at which the comedy industry currently finds itself trapped. What should come first? Professionalism or money? It’s the chicken-or-egg dilemma that local comedians must resolve if comedy in Uganda is ever to come out of limbo and turn into a viable industry.

My role in the overall scene is hard to contextualize. I was the first Ugandan comedian to have his own satirical half-hour TV show. But having blazed that particular trail, outgrown the local scene and relocated to more advanced comedy markets, no comedian seems to have sufficiently stepped up to plug the subsequent vacuum.

Similarly, while I’ve tried to expand the reach of my brand of comedy by writing and performing standup for diverse audiences all over the world — from South Africa through Switzerland to the US — no Ugandan has tried to follow a similar path.

Instead of targeting the global audience with universal material, Ugandan comics appear more contented performing only the kind of comedy that appeals strictly to consumers back at home, Ugandans in the diaspora or other Africans, at best.

What were you doing before you started with your new Daily Show gig?

I was performing comedy on the international circuit and around New York City, in particular. Off stage, I was busy writing a number of screenplays and TV pilots.

How did you get approached by The Daily Show?

While performing on the New York comedy scene, I had the good fortune of crossing paths with Trevor Noah at The Comedy Cellar. We bonded over our mutual passion for comedy, did some work together and regularly kept in touch. When Trevor was hired as the new host of The Daily Show, he invited me to come onboard.

Now that you have this new job, where are you currently based?

Since The Daily Show studios are located in midtown Manhattan, I’m based smack in the centre of New York City.

What is your role on The Daily Show?

I’m the rookie in an extremely talented, richly experienced and lavishly decorated writing team that has accumulated more Emmy awards down the years than they care to count. So, my role is to learn and in time, hope to become half as good and half as decorated as the writers in place. Meanwhile, I pen scripts, pitch ideas and obsessively check my office for hidden cameras just to confirm that it all isn’t some elaborate Yankee prank.

Is there a segment or joke you've had a hand in on the new Daily Show that's been your favorite or that you're most proud of?

By its very nature, writing for a late night show is a highly collaborative effort. The entire writing room pitches into each segment and episode. But that being said, so far, I'm most proud of the "Trump: America's first African president" segment we broadcast in our very debut week. It brought a global touch to a quintessentially American subject, allowing Trevor to swiftly showcase to the audience that unique outsider's perspective that he brings to The Daily Show.

If you could arrange for one Ugandan musician to appear on The Daily Show, who would it be?

I would pick Maddox Sematimba. Maddox is a bit of a tortured genius. But he’s the only Ugandan artiste who is both gifted and interesting enough to grace The Daily Show.

Who from Uganda would you most want Trevor to interview on The Daily Show?

Stephen Kiprotich, hands down. As the reigning Olympic marathon champion, Kiprotich has scaled heights few Ugandans dare to dream of. And what’s even better, Kiprotich’s inspiring “against-all-odds, rags-to-riches” fairytale could put Rocky Balboa to shame.

Keep up with Joseph Opio on Twitter at @LOLUganda.

Arts + Culture

This Stunning Series of Self-Portraits Explores Love And The Concept of Letting Go

Cape Town photographer Meet The Internet shares a few images from her exhibition.

Cape Town photographer Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana, who is known online as "Meet The Internet," does not take the topic of love lightly. "Most of us rushed into it," she says, "and we started dating without understanding what love is."

Her latest photography series, Love Through My Eyes is, is a reflection on how people around her deal with love, from staying in toxic relationships because they fear being alone, to those who build walls around themselves in fear of heartbreak and are hence unlovable.

"We come from broken families," says Ngqoyiyana. "Some with no fathers at all, so we go out yearning to be loved by a man and pray for better experiences than what we see our mothers go through. We get our fair share of hurt, we watch people come to our lives, we share our bodies with them and when it's enough for them they leave. We even start understanding and forgiving the cycle."

This cycle is reflected in the photos. In most of them, the color red is prevalent, symbolic for love. And the main subject, which is the photographer herself, is elusive, hiding her face either with a mask or red ropes, which could symbolize the blinding effect of love and how it can suffocate you.

Ngqoyiyana wants the images to focus on both sides of love. "I like the concept of balloons," she says, "because from a young age it kinda teaches us the concept of holding on to something and letting go. Obviously letting go is never fun, hence we cried when we would see our balloons fly away."

Ngqoyiyana got into photography by taking behind the scenes photos in music video sets. Her first gig as a photographer was a matric ball, and she recently started directing music videos.

The photos for Love Through My Eyes took "roughly three weeks" to make, and are all self-portraits. A confessed shy person, for a long time Ngqoyiyana wasn't happy with her appearance. "I can be whoever I want to be with self-portraits, and I am not so conscious about the way I look," she says.

"When I started taking pictures I was at a stage in my life where I was depressed and anxious, because I didn't have a career, and with no tertiary education," says Ngqoyiyana. "I felt I was "wasting away," she says. "Self-portraits were more of an escape, or a 'pretend like I am doing more than I actually am.' But after seeing the reception on the Internet, I did more."

Love Through My Eyes ran for a day on the 10th of November in Observatory, Cape Town. As a result of the amazing reception, says Ngqoyiyana, more prints of her work are on the way.

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Follow Meet The Internet on Instagram and Facebook.

Blinky Bill 'Don't Worry.' Source: Youtube.

Watch Blinky Bill's New Video for 'Don't Worry'

The Nairobi producer releases the humorous visuals for his second single.

Blinky Bill dropped his long-awaited debut album, Everyone's Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales, last month and it's clearly been well received by fans in Kenya and all over the world.

His latest music video for the hard-hitting single "Don't Worry" was filmed in Detroit and directed by his usual collaborators Osborne Macharia, Andrew Mageto and Kevo Abbra.

Blinky prances around Detroit's Heidelberg Project—an outdoor art installation created to support the surrounding area's community—lighting up the vibe of this aggressive song.

"The song is called Don't Worry and I feel like the vibe we created with the visuals is in tune with the spirit of the song, which is just about staying in your lane and minding your business," the Kenyan artist mentions. "I like that it takes a song that is serious and aggressive and makes it a little more fun."

This video is an instant mood-lifter and definitely worth the view.

Watch Blinky Bill's new music video for "Don't Worry" below.

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Photo still via YouTube.

Falana's New Music Video for 'Ride or Die' Is a Must-Watch

The Nigerian singer returns with her first single in 4 years in this Daniel Obasi-directed work of art.

Falana couldn't let the year wrap up without making a statement.

The Toronto-raised Nigerian singer recently dropped the music video "Ride or Die"—her first single in 4 years—directed by Daniel Obasi.

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