by Robert Scalia
Daliso Chaponda figures if the Malawi-style storytelling and
British cynicism dont cut it, he can always squeeze a laugh out
with his distinctly Canadian self-victimization bit.
The 22-year-old comedian demonstrated all three in fine form during his
first headline act, Feed This Black Man, stroking the funny-bones
of about 50 people at the D.B. Clarke Theatre on Saturday night with fairytale
rhymes and humiliating experiences.
Being broke. Not being able to eat. A bad love life. Everything
that can possibly conspire against me does, explains the Concordia
creative writing student, summing up his tortured stage persona over the
Dont get him wrong, Chaponda loves Canada. It beckoned him onstage.
He would have never dreamed of doing stand-up in his district of Mulanje,
In Malawi, storytelling is the closest thing to standup. Town elders renowned
for their skills are usually invited not hired to entertain
guests at weddings and Christmas parties. While the stories are usually
hilarious, sarcasm doesnt go over at all in Africa.
It does in Montreal, as Chaponda was to discover during the Just for Laughs
Festival two yeas ago. He was studying computer science at McGill University
and writing plays and poems on the side. He decided to take the stage
during an open mike contest at the Comedy Nest.
It was absolutely amazing. Thats why I kept going.
Almost two years and many shows later, Chaponda admits he still gets the
butterflies before every performance. Once in the spotlight, however,
Many comedians would disagree, but I actually believe any comedian
can make any joke. Once the audience likes you, theyll let you say
Of course, like a shark specialist, Chaponda has learned the vital skill
of testing the waters before diving in head first. That means using certain
probing jokes or stories that start innocently and get progressively
more vulgar to gauge how politically, religiously or sexually flexible
his audience will be.
People who go to comedy clubs respond very well to it, because they
go looking for it. University students are a tougher sell. Its
very hard to talk politics with them unless you agree with them.
Chaponda learned his lesson during a show at Reggies Bar, which
was packed with Concordia Student Union representatives just coming out
of a meeting. They didnt appreciate his Fanatic bit, an imaginary
Survivoresque contest that would pit Taliban Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses
and ant-abortionists against one another in the desert for weeks. He never
even got to the punch line.
Still, Chaponda believes humour is necessary, particularly when dealing
with tragedy. He recalls watching hilarious plays produced
in the market theatres in Swaziland, South Africa, that had been written
during apartheid. If you cant do anything about a situation,
you might as well laugh at it.
These days, Chaponda is trying hard not to infuse stand-up humour into
his creative writing, though a surprise punch line is always tempting.
He always loved writing, and remembers how a high school teacher in Kenya
egged him on by publishing one of his stories in the local paper. He is
presently trying to publish his novel Malevolent Spirits and hopes
to release a play titled Wheelbarrow by April.
Still, it is the stage he craves. Besides, he is confident that his parents
are finally coming around to the idea. His three brothers, spread out
all over the world, are his biggest fans.
Where does this defiant comedian draw the line? I wonder if I could
perform in front of my mother and start talking about sex, he says,
amused by the prospect. No, I dont know about that. It hasnt
You can catch Daliso Chapondras second and last performance of Feed
That Black Man this Saturday night at the D.B. Clarke Theatre, in the
Hall Building. Tickets are $8.