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Laughter Amidst Misery

Ethiopians have had a difficult time in recent years. In a nation where the news is full of war, conflict, displacement, and economic challenges, just making it through the day might be the wisest choice. People do that, especially in the capital, Addis Ababa. Going to theaters, movies, and other festivals might temporarily relieve stress. A new addition to the list is the growing trend of standup shows. Even though it has not yet reached its full potential, standup comedy is indeed helping urbanites ease their economic pain. In this article, EBR’s Hemen Asmare shares insights she gathered talking to a young man who started a center in hopes of supporting the growth of standup comedy, and the role it may have in society.   

Standup comedy was primarily presented as a prelude to other public gatherings, like music concerts and public conferences. Aside from what one might catch on TV, a short comedy in between weekend programs, pure stand-up comedy shows may not have been found so easily just a couple of years ago.

“I think Meskerem Bekele, the one who released his standup comedies from the US, came very close to pure standup comedy,” says Adayehegn Asfaw, the founder of Saq Center. “Following that, Eshetu Melese and others have dared to bring pure comedy packages before the public, who have recently shown interest in paying for such shows.”

Asayehegn founded a comedy center about two years ago in Kality, Akaki Kality District. He envisioned the center hosting a series of standup comedy shows to support the growth of the art of standup comedy. The center houses more than 100 viewers during shows.

According to Asayehegn, standup comedy shows elicit two types of reactions from the public. The first reaction is from an audience that is already acquainted with standup comedy shows in the US and other parts of the world. This audience understands the fabric of the shows and so is really entertained. The other segment is the ones that have not been introduced to such shows and show mixed reactions.

“My first show was called Article 39,” Asayehegn told EBR. “We are not yet available on social media, but we will start promoting our works soon.”

According to Asayegn, diverse audiences have diverse demands; some may want comedy, while others may prefer narrative entertainment, and some may prefer physical humor or impressions.

“In Ethiopia, you can tell that people are interested in hearing more of that same thing when a topic that made people sad is brought up in a humorous way,” Asayehegn says. “Also, the youth want to hear more love stories.”

Asayehegn’s work is also being challenged by public opinion. Some people argue that in a nation where the news is full of misery, it may not be the right time to put an effort into expanding the work of comedy. Even if one tries, it may not be successful.

However, that is not how Asayehegn views it. Rainy days are actually the right time for art to play its role. Art imparts wisdom on how to get through those difficult times, and carries people on its wings, helping them cross over.

Another issue is the lack of financial support for the shows and the genre as a whole. Big corporations and businesses that happily finance movies and music albums are less enthusiastic about supporting this form of art. Asayehegn hopes that this will gradually change.

Another challenge is artistic freedom. Asayehegn and his colleagues are jealous of how far comedy has progressed in the US. Whether it is in politics or social issues, comedy knows no limit.

“That is not the case in our country,” Asyehegn explains. “There are very few you can talk about.”

Freedom is a key ingredient of art. For one thing, one has to feel free to even begin to imagine and appreciate an artwork be it a painting, a script for a film, or a standup. But, it doesn’t end there. After the artist has put out the work, the audience has to feel the freedom to entertain the topics that were imagined in Freedom, according to Asayehegn.

“It doesn’t end there,” Asayehegn explains. “Comedians criticize the public as well, so, the public must appreciate it as a piece of art, that requires freedom of thought.”

For Yonas Lemma, a 30-year-old middle-aged businessman, nothing matches a moment of laughter at one of these shows.

“It takes your stress away, even for a moment,” Yonas told EBR. “I really have fun at these events.” On one of his busy and stressful days, a standup show or a piece of poetry does the magic for Yonas, who has become addicted to shows by comedian Eshetu both online and in person.

Studies show that standup comedy has different health benefits. Comedy is a great stress reliever since it helps you feel relaxed. It makes you chuckle and helps you forget about your worries. Comedy has been proven in several studies to be a scientific and healthy technique for releasing unpleasant emotions. Rather than releasing your pent-up tension and fury through negative habits, you may choose to turn to humor to relieve your dissatisfaction and stress.

It reduces blood pressure. A night of laughter at a comedy club provides more than just relief it also has the remarkable ability to increase your heart rate and breathing rate. The body’s heart and respiration rates gradually drop, resulting in reduced blood pressure towards the end of the show.

Surprisingly, a researcher discovered that viewing a hilarious movie reduced blood pressure for a full 24 hours afterward. Other research found that not only can amusing shows increase artery dilation, but that viewing melancholy programs really harms our blood vessels.

It helps relieve pain, Stand-up comedy, in addition to being a stress reliever, may also aid with long-term pain treatment. Laughing can stimulate your body to manufacture natural painkillers and can also help ease muscle discomfort by disrupting the distress cycle. 

11th Year • May 2023 • No. 117 EBR


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