Do not insult or make fun of the audience; no one will attend a comedy show to become the joke
The greatest lesson I have learnt as a columnist is “never offend your readers” — a lesson I got from a former friend.
It is a lesson that everyone in the media business ought to learn; don’t offend your audiences in either of these two ways — by insulting them or by insulting their intelligence.
The audiences (readers, viewers and listeners) are much more intelligent than we in the media give them credit for.
They know when we are lying and when we are trying really hard to push a certain narratives.
Allow me to be academic here. Audiences are so important that they form the crux of the economic cataclysm currently experienced by the media globally.
The media today do not know either how to attract audience or to keep them.
The churn rate (rate at which audiences come and go) is so high that news organisations around the world are trying every trick from artificial intelligence, deep learning and sophisticated content strategies to make you guys stay. If you are a scholar of the media business such as I, you will begin to pick up a trend that the most successful media strategies are audience-centered or and reader-focused.
Which brings me to the topic of the day, when I saw one of your favourite local comedy shows breaking the cardinal rule of the media business. They offended one of their audiences by outright, publicly, unashamedly insulting an unassuming, old man.
Let me rehash.
A local comedian is giving a joke on how women should forget their obsession with handsome men and give more attention to ugly men who have a more “personal” face.
As the joke is narrated, a brilliant camera-person pans the camera to an old man, a move that jolts the semi-drunk crowd into animated laughter, much to the embarrassment of the mzee.
In a poorly thought-out rejoinder, the comedian interjects, making it clear that he is not referring to the mzee because he is in fact a sponsor, a sentiment that makes the poor old man to break into an embarrassing sweat.
He tries to smile shyly, to hide the undeserved embarrassment, but his body language and his eyes give him away.
The mzee cannot hide the fact that it hurt him that the comedians told a joke at his expense.
The mzee paid to attend the show, only to witness a televised joke made expense of his dignity.
He was disrespected so others could laugh. In a single stroke of comic genius, he realised that while he had come to hear a joke or two, he ended up being the joke. To say that Kenyan comedy has become a comedy of errors is to understate the magnitude of this episode.
A subsequent video shows the comedian approaching the man (still within the show), asking his name and sort of congratulating the old man for “making it” to the show after a long wait. The comedian further tries to extinguish the mess by proclaiming that he knows the old man and that they are “friends”. Sorry, but friends don’t do that to friends. I feel sorry for the old man. He did not deserve to be publicly shamed for his looks nor be falsely accused of being a “sponsor” - jokingly or otherwise.
You do not make the audience your joke; neither do you approach them with such a condescending attitude. You are because of your audiences. Probably that mzee is a respectable member of his society.
Maybe he was there with his children, or even grandchildren who now have to share in the embarrassment.
In a world where the Internet never forgets, that short clip will remain etched in the Interwebs for decades.
Maybe he is a staunch, religious man, the kind that people look up to in society, perhaps he is a member of the Men’s Fellowship in his church.
And even if he was none of these, nobody deserves to walk into a comedy show and become the joke.
The legal ramifications of such televised embarrassment aside, I think whoever runs the show needs to publicly apologise to the mzee. A public embarrassment calls for a public apology and an avowal that such a thing will never happen again.
Finally, let me take this opportunity to unreservedly seek forgiveness to any reader who read any of my columns and felt offended.
We are because you are, dear readers.