Daliso Chaponda was threatened with arrest by Malawi’s censorship board for joking about the country, he tells Laura Davis
A WELL-formed sense of satire is an inate part of what it means to be British. Our tendency to deal with the ludicrices of puffed-up politicians through a witty retort or an exaggerated sketch is integral to our national identity.
It has been that way for hundreds of years. Before Have I Got News for You there was Spitting Image. Before Spitting Image there was Punch. Before Punch there was Chaucer. Before Chaucer, there was probably a bloke on the battlefield at Merton doing an uncanny impression of Alfred the Great burning his cakes.
That’s not to say our nation is perfect – far from it. But at least there are plenty of people pointing that out - in cartoons, TV and radio panel shows and in newspaper columns.
“You can’t even imagine how insane Mock The Week would be to a Malawian,” says African comedian Daliso Chaponda.
“A show where they just make fun of the Government – what?”
He should know. The Zambian-born comic drew unwanted attention from the Censorship Board last year when he dared to criticise the Malawian government during a stand-up show.
The son of Malawi’s then minister of justice first thought his father’s government might have a serious problem with his material when he received a phone call in advance of the performance asking to see the script. When he said there wasn’t one, they sent three agents to watch.
Chaponda toned down his material, which included poking fun at the country’s change of national flag, but it wasn’t enough to stop the headlines of “Minister’s son criticises government”.
He only escaped arrest, he believes, because the audience of 2,000 at a hotel in Lilongwe included the British and the French ambassadors.
“I naively thought that I could cross the line further because with humour you can go further than with anything else,” he says.
“I’ve performed in Zimbabwe and there you have to pull back a bit, you can only imply things.
“I had naively thought in my own country they were pretty laid back. It’s because my father is and he’s in the government. I didn’t realise he’s not indicative of the rest.
“The most that would have happened to me was I would have been arrested for a night. Then you pay the bail. My family would get me out. But you don’t know what would happen to you that night in jail. It’s rough and things can spiral out of control.”