Why cross-dressing comedy is becoming popular in Kenya

Comedian Flaqo

Comedian Flaqo also known as Mama Otis in his funny videos.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

If you love watching short funny videos online, then you have probably come across comedian Flaqo also known as Mama Otis funny videos. 

The long wigs he wears to act as Otis’ sister and headscarf when he is Mama Otis not to mention breast and bum-enhancing clothes might make you believe that the two characters are being played by an actual woman.

But that is far from the truth. Born Erastus Otieno, Flaqo gained popularity in 2019 when he started doing comedy as a cross-dresser.

While still at the university, he knew he wanted to venture into the entertainment industry and he tried his stint by starting out as a singer.

But at the time, it did not work out well. So one day with his phone, he recorded himself while in costume pretending to act as a typical Kenyan woman.

The video received numerous likes and was shared on many social media platforms. And since then starting with only one character of Mama Otis, he has gone ahead to include other characters like Baba Otis and Otis’ sister which he individually acts by himself.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

“I conceptualised the idea of playing the role of a typical Kenyan mother with a no-nonsense attitude while still in university. Mama Otis, in a way, is actually my mum, although at first, she was not a big fan of the character because she felt I was revealing her identity to the whole world. But she has since come around. My dad was also unenthusiastic about the idea, however, he gave me the benefit of doubt,” Flaqo said during an interview with Nation.Africa.

Being a man and dressing up as a woman was not easy for him at the beginning. He reveals that he would hide while shooting the videos or go to a secluded place.

Flaqo is one of many other comedians who have ventured into the art.

In Mombasa, comedian Idris Salim, popularly known as Mama Fatma is another online sensation with over 300,000 followers on Tik Tok.

Acting in different plays at the Little Theatre Club in Mombasa was his bread and butter until when acting jobs became scarce and the phone stopped ringing for auditions.

Salim then decided to create the character of Mama Fatma, the pesky nosy Swahili woman. His videos on YouTube have no less than 3,000 views with the most popular having more than 400,000 views.

Mama Fatma

“I decided on Mama Fatma because women are interesting. She is the typical Swahili woman who is nosy, and straightforward when it comes to giving advice,” he said.  

Not far away from the coastal shows is the famous TV comedian Nyanya Rukia played by actor and director Kazungu Fahamu.

Nyanya Rukia a television drama series that airs on Maisha Magic revolves around the daily life of Nyanya Rukia a stubborn old grandmother whose business is to be in everybody’s business in her neighbourhood.

Controversial comedian Eric Omondi also recently introduced Divalicious, his female alter-ego. Omondi explained that Divalicious was created during the Covid-19 dusk to dawn curfew that was imposed by the government to help curb the spread of the disease.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Divalicious usually spots a long black wig, and a red bodycon dress. Eric even goes the extra mile of applying makeup.

This it seems is the new trend of comedy that is slowly taking over. But it is still not a cup of tea for everyone. For instance, all the above-mentioned have lamented their frustrations over bullying and harassment.

“Some people are just waiting for me to come out as gay, but I am not gay Mama Otis is a character, not the real me. What I do is just to entertain people. It feels weird when I’m out and about on the streets and people start calling me ‘Mama Otis’. Some even expect me to start talking in Mama Otis' voice … it’s really weird,” Flaqo said.

Salim also shares the same experience. “I come from a strong Muslim background and when I started acting as a woman, putting on makeup and wearing dresses, it rubbed a few people the wrong way. Some of their comments were harsh. I had to go to therapy because I would sometimes think about harming myself.”

But despite the criticism, these comedians have excelled in their capacities to become household names.

American actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry is one of the artistes in the entertainment industry who has made a fortune for himself for his iconic character Madea.

“I have no problem with people cross-dressing but for me, I think it is a shortcut that is creative. We have female comedians. If I have a role for a woman I would look for a female comedian. But then, some people like to see it differently. For example when a man does something funny dressed as a woman,” comedian Butita said.

 “I would not advise any upcoming comedian to start their career that way. Because it is a shortcut. First of all, you need to be funny whether you have a costume on or not. What happens when we take the costume away will you still be able to make people laugh, that is the whole essence of being a comedian,” he said.

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