'LOL Uganda' host and new 'Daily Show' staff writer Joseph Opio

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.

“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.

Related: Watch 2019 Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi, on 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah'

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.


University lecturer and activist Doctor Stella Nyanzi (L) reacts in court as she attends a trial to face charges for cyber-harassment and offensives communication, in Kampala, on April 10, 2017. (Photo by GAEL GRILHOT/AFP via Getty Images)

Jailed Ugandan Activist, Stella Nyanzi, Wins PEN Prize for Freedom of Expression

The outspoken activist, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a poem she wrote about the president's mother's vagina, won for her resistance "in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her."

Stella Nyanzi, the Ugandan academic, activist, and vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni has been awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression, given to writers who "continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution."

Nyanzi is currently serving a 15 month sentence for "cyber harassment" after she published a poem in which she wrote that she wished "the acidic pus flooding Esiteri's (the president's mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda."

According to the director of PEN International, Carles Torner, her unfiltered outspokenness around the issues facing her country is what earned her the award. "For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her," said Torner at the award ceremony.

Keep reading...
Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Glamour

Watch Trevor Noah Talk About the Lack of Diversity in the 2020 Oscar Nominations

In a segment of 'The Daily Show', the South African comedian shares his views about the glaringly White and male nominations for this year's Oscars.

Following the release of the Oscar nominations recently, there's been widespread outrage with the glaring lack of diversity among this year's nominees.

Recently, South African comedian and host of the The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, gave his views on the matter. As always, he held nothing back.

Keep reading...
Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading...
Photo: Ben Depp.

Watch Yilian Canizares & Paul Beaubrun's Beautiful Video For 'Noyé'

"Cuba and Haiti come together to share the love and heritage of our deep rooted culture and spirituality."

Yilian Canizares and Paul Beaubrun connect for the serene "Noyé," one of the highlights from Canizares' latest album, Erzulie.

The Cuban singer and Haitian artist are now sharing the new Arnaud Robert-directed music video for the single, which we're premiering here today.

"Noyé is a song that comes from our roots," Yilian Canizares tells OkayAfrica. "Inspired by the energy of love. The same love that kept Africa's legacy alive in the hearts of Haiti and Cuba. We wanted to do a stripped down version of only the essential pieces from a musical point of view. Something raw and beautiful where our souls would be naked."

The striking music video follows Canizares and Beaubrun to the waters of New Orleans, the universal Creole capital, where they sing and float until meeting on the Mississippi River.

"Noyé is a cry of love from children of African descent," says Paul Beaubrun. "Cuba and Haiti come together to share the love and heritage of our deep rooted culture and spirituality."

Watch the new music video for "Noyé" below.

Keep reading...

get okayafrica in your inbox