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S.Sudan: Comedians and audience heal the pain through humour

South Sudanese audience react as comedian David Lodiong (not seen) imitates Pope Francis during his performance, at the Kilkilu Ana Comedy Show in Juba on February 9, 2023.   -  
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SIMON MAINA/AFP or licensors

South Sudan

Welcome to one of Juba's most sought-after night out spot. For just over one US dollar (1.40), spectators gain access to the hall of laughter.

It is a Thursday evening, and the young audience crammed into a concert hall in South Sudan's capital city is howling with laughter as a comedian lands his closing punchline.

Juba's Kilkilu Ana Comedy Show is a weekly comedy night.

Stand-up acts, poetry readings and music shows have no trouble drawing crowds eager for distraction and solace.

Indeed, after a civil war, South Sudanese still suffered from violence fuelled by various armed groups.

The public and comedians alike make the most of the shows as laughter proves therapeutic.

"A lot of South Sudanese have gone through a lot of war, a lot of bad things that happened in their lives, they are traumatized, they need the humour, they need the smile to heal them from the trauma they went through," Kuech Deng Atem aka Wokil Jeesh Commando, a comedian, and former child soldier says.

This is even more tue in Juba: "Here what happened since 2013-2016, lot of people lost their families, a lot of people went through horrible things, I use these jokes to make them smile, to heal them from the trauma that they went through. "

When the show kicked off in May 2014, its creator feared it would flop. 

Just a few months before that, the country had exploded into horrific bloodshed that pitted neighbour against neighbour and drove millions of people over the border.

Pushing boundaries

Lumori -- who fled to Uganda -- returned to Juba and found a city scarred and broken.

"So many people lost their loved ones," 43-year-old Lumori explained.

The scene has matured since and in recent years, some of the country's best-known comedians have cut their teeth on the Kilkilu Ana stage.

"I think people are getting relieved because here it is not only one tribe that comes in, it (the comedy show) is kind of promoting the peace in the country where you get to know many tribes, very many people from different perspectives and it encourages that unity," student Amiok Kuer says.

"This brings us all together, and encourages the peace despite the fact that South Sudan has been going through a lot with war."

"Before, everything was understood to be very sensitive. You could not make a joke about a tribe, you could not make a joke about the government but our comedians are now known to a level whereby... to our government level.. because they are even invited to the government functions, they are invited to wedding functions, they are now understood very well compared to the rest, of those days when we started. Because when we started was really... when you make a joke about a tribe; a comedian would be killed. "

In a skit this month, Atem joked about South Sudan's schools being broke and teachers underpaid at a high-profile event where the country's education minister was guest of honour.

Comedians have also been able to push boundaries about many hot-button issues.

Akau Jambo, South Sudan's highest-profile comedian, said comedy should hold the powerful to account and he sought to pose difficult questions in a thoughtful manner.

Kilkilu Ana Comedy Show is hardly the only show in town and Juba will host its 2nd international comedy festival in April.

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