The Cambridge Geek

Daliso Chaponda: Citizen of Nowhere

[UPDATE - 8th November 2019]: Chaponda is back with a second series of stand-up, still with a heavy focus on UK-Africa relations, but spreading a little further afield, to discuss how different cultures clash more generally.

For example, the first episode investigates a question I've often enjoyed pondering, about how much "good" is defined objectively or subjectively. In the absence of an absolute morality (hello agnosticism) good is entirely defined by societal values. Why, then, is FGM unacceptable, but circumcision and baby ear-piercing acceptable?

You might not think that's the most hilarious question, but naturally it's all in the presentation. Chaponda again talks through these big issues with context provided by silly stories from his life (see him managing to end up dating a racist, for example), and there's also a few more recent issues to dig through. "Cancel culture" is one particular example, with the pesky narrator having managed to make the mistake of posting a tweet, and now needing to apologise for it.

The back and forth between them is probably still my favourite element of this, with the sniping cleverly walking the tightrope of offensive stereotypes, without ever becoming obnoxious during his toying with white guilt. And if you needed any more convincing, the first series happened to get nominated for a Rose d'Or award, so it's obviously not just me who enjoyed it. (It also has a very amusing skewering of Boris Johnson.)

[ORIGINAL - 11th May 2018]: Daliso Chaponda is a Malawian comedian (by way of quite a lot of other countries) currently living in the UK, and has put together this version of his touring stage show for BBC Radio 4. It's a rather less sitcom-y affair than his previous appearance in When The Laughter Stops, but still features a fair bit of dialogue between Daliso and his meddling narrator.

This is an examination of Britain's relationship with Africa, which perhaps could be described as "difficult", if one were feeling in the mood to indulge in a little revisionism. Since this is the first episode, it looks at Britain's initial interactions with Africa. Which are mostly slavery and colonialism.

You might think that would make this a difficult topic to joke about, and you'd be half right. Not regarding the comedy, as it's rather brilliant. Probably the funniest show on this month. But it's interesting to listen to an audience who aren't always sure if they're allowed to laugh. Chaponda does have a fair bit of fun with this, the idea of playing with white guilt, which is nicely balanced with his arguments with the narrator/sound engineer.

That relationship is one of the main sources of comedy, with James Quinn playing a version of the patronising "we know better than the natives" colonial archetype, as well as an incompetent voiceover man (though with a surprising range). Perhaps my favourite moment in the show comes shamefully from a double entendre slipped into Chaponda's words by the sneaky narrator, but their sniping is always fun.

The show doesn't dig too deep into the history in the manner of something like In Their Element or Natalie Haynes, being very comedy heavy, but I think that's where it's meant to be positioned. It's difficult to give a lot of nuanced detail, when the best fact that the audience knows about Africa is pulled from Toto lyrics. We do perhaps fail rather strongly at having an international education.

Good for comedy though, and will be listening to the rest of the series. And if nothing else, it seems to have got Chaponda another date in a slavery museum.

Score 4

Tagged: Radio Comedy Two hander Stand-up Geography/History