Comedy is a very powerful thing. It can make us laugh, it can make us cry (with laughter), and it can make us send stupid online videos via Whatsapp accompanied by the caption “looooooooool” to our mates.
On a vastly more significant level, it can also cast light on the more unpleasant aspects of humanity and expose them for the ridiculous, silly things that they truly are.
Nasra Yusuf, a Somali stand-up comedian in Kenya, is doing that last part (and the parts we mentioned in the opening paragraph, too) to a T.
“I use jokes to kill the stereotyping that is associated with us Somalis,” she recently told BBC News Africa. “And I just bring positive vibes to people”.
Yusuf, known as Nasra, is a 24-year-old Somali woman who has spent almost all of her life in Kenya. In recent months, she has built a name for herself thanks to regular performances on the popular Kenyan TV show Mr Churchill.
Much of her act focuses on challenging the negative perception of Somalis in the country. In Kenya, the Somali community make up a very small part of the population, yet they are common targets of discrimination. This is largely due to the rise of al-Shabaab, a terror group with Somali origins who have committed a number of attacks in the country.
"I use jokes to kill the stereotypes associated with us Somalis." 🇸🇴Nasra Yusuf is the only Somali female comedian in Kenya and stars on the Churchill Show, one of Kenya's biggest TV hits. She's trying to change the negative perception that some Kenyans have of Somalis by confronting the stereotypes head on.
Posted by BBC News Africa on Monday, February 4, 2019
This has seen Somalis in Kenya characterised as dangerous and unwelcome, a view Nasra is tackling, one set at a time.
“I think comedy is helping a lot in killing stereotypes. And just by me telling them, ‘You know guys, the way you treat us…it’s not right. When they go back home they think about it, and [they’re] like, ‘This girl talked some sense and she told us that whatever we’re doing is not right.”
Nasra’s best bits tend to draw on her own experience. In one, she describes how she was the only passenger on a bus who was searched before boarding, despite not having the will to kill a fly let alone a human. The joke betrays a serious issue while exposing the absurdity of discrimination.
Yet her comedy isn’t just dealing with discrimination against Somalis in Kenya. It’s also defying the expectations of her own culture.
“It’s very rare to find a female Somali comedian because of how strict our traditions and our community is towards us,” she explained.
“We have been taught from a very young age that we’re not supposed to stand before men… we are not supposed to laugh in front of men… at times I just think that those are the things that hinder Somali girls from coming out and presenting their talents.”
At least right now Nasra is able to show off her own. And hopefully, she’ll inspire more girls to follow her path.
It takes a lot of guts to stand in front of people and try to make them laugh, but it takes even more to try it while challenging stereotypes and cultural expectations.
Basically, major props to Nasra Yusuf. Hopefully she’ll perform in the UK in the not too distant future.
In the meantime, be sure to follow her on Instagram (@nasracomedian).