Benjamin Bankole Bello, who performs comedy as President Obonjo, is rather concerned by the Pleasance venue’s banning of comedian Jerry Sadowitz’s show at the Edinburgh Fringe…
For well over 11 years I have performed as self-exiled dictator, President Obonjo, living in the UK – bombastic, loud and terrorising the audience – a great conduit for jokes.
The press statement from the Pleasance included this:
“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged”.
This has more implications for Character Comedy than Straight Stand Up. There is a difference and I have always believed that, when performing Character Comedy, you can get away with anything you say on stage… and I mean absolutely anything.
Displaying the characteristics of a dictator on stage has been warmly received over the years, The audience automatically assume he is a tribute act of the late Field Marshall Idi Amin.
They know what to expect once they attend the show. They could end up with their heads in a fridge. They are expecting to be shot for comedy effect
President Obonjo will never get his knob out to the audience, do racist, sexist or homophobic material. But audiences who come to see him know what to expect.
Dictators use intimidation, terror and the suppression of fundamental civil liberties.
He is likely to bring a gun out and threaten to use it, grab a woman and ‘marry’ her in front of an audience. He may threaten to waterboard an audience if they don’t laugh.
Audiences have continued to accept this brand of comedy.
This statement from the Pleasance opens a can of worms for character comedy.
Saying something in character that is not in alignment with the organisation’s views could get your show cancelled.
Would President Obonjo survive performing at the Pleasance, if given the opportunity to do so, using the above characteristics?
In fact, he did perform at the Pleasance as part of a compilation show AAA produced by Bound and Gagged in August 2019.
The act has taken a new direction since 2019. What he says now is different from what he said in 2019.
One of the President’s confidants recently said: “I think you need to go darker with your audience. They are expecting it. You should do it and go darker.”
I think the West is now so confused about Freedom of Speech, it is clearly exhausted with democracy.
President Obonjo (ironically) is the man to defend freedom of speech.