Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Ethnicity as Discursive Construct in Kenyan Televised Comedy: Humorous Harm?

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Ethnicity as Discursive Construct in Kenyan Televised Comedy: Humorous Harm?

Article excerpt


Television is the centre stage of comedy since the beginning of the [] century. Recent studies have found that there is difficulty in distinguishing social commentary and satire reproduced from the ideological ethnic stereotypes in televised comedy. In most cases, the debate shifts to whether the viewers of these comedy shows laugh at the stereotyped group or the stereotyped group laugh alongside (Kerrigan, 2011; Oring, 2011). Some studies have proved that ethnic comedy can be a double-edged sword; sometimes it can be offensive to some groups and sometimes it is not, although there is always the right time for them (Meyer, 2000). In this case, it has been argued that ethnic comedy can be more acceptable when the portrayals are made, and it is clear that the group being stereotyped will be laughing alongside others.

In Kenya, television comedy has become extremely popular in the last two decades; starting with the popular Redykulass show. Today, every television channel has a programme with comic content. The Kenyan comedy peaks with 'Churchill Live Show" led by Dan Ndambuki and aired by Nation Television (NTV) and; Kenya Kona hosted by Jalang'o and Mshamba; initially aired by citizen TV and later by the Kenya Television Network (, 2013). Currently Kenya Kona series is over, but its ethnic jokes still live on recorded tapes. These shows are the two most popular stand-up comedy shows ever aired national television. Kenyans laugh at their ethnic jokes and like them. But is there any harm of stereotypes that the comedians keep repeating regarding some of the 42 ethnic groups in Kenya?

Understanding Ethnicity, Stereotypes and Ethnic Stereotyping

Ethnicity is the demarcation of society members with regard to their supposed natural characteristics like language, physical features, place of origin, color, accents among others (Rappoport, 2005; Gataullina, 2003). Stereotyping has been serving multiple purposes in the society that include cognitive and motivational dynamics (Norrick, 2009). In the media industry, stereotyping is born of the need to convey information about characters in a simplified way and to inculcate in the audiences expectations about the actions of portrayed characters (Casey, et al., 2002).

Stereotypes are significant in comedy because they not only help to establish instantly recognizable behavioral pattern, but the portrayal of such patterns constitutes a comic relief (Gillot, 2013). However, critical attention should be paid to the ideological implications of the stereotypical treatment of ethnic groups in comedy. In the argument of King (2002, p. 129), such attention should provide an insight as to whether stereotypes are "read as a symptom of existing social relations or as a more active component of the politics of representation."

And furthermore, ethnic stereotyping is a misrepresentation of an ethnic group using what are thought to be representative characteristics of members of that ethnic group. Ethnic labels are the images that are used to misrepresent an ethnic group, and they relay underlying messages about cultural norms, status, behavioral patterns and groupthink of an ethnic group. Ethnic stereotyping is very common in ethnic comedy which in most cases is considered offensive and in other cases a comic relief or joke. In their analysis, Steers and Nardon (2005) contend that since ethnic comedy is considered a comic relief as a result of their realistic caricatures of various cultures, the commonness of such jokes emanate from the significance of cultural differences. However, it is important to quickly caution that ethnic stereotypes, just like cultural stereotypes can produce binary opposed consequences. Whereas ethnic stereotypes can reinforce positive values that benefit a group over another, they can also result to significant stereotypes inimical to ethnic, cultural, social cohesion and national integration and coexistence. …

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