Ugandan Comedians: Meet Arthur Simeon Omaset - The Bishop
"When I finally got the guts to step up on a stage, I did okay and the MC asked me to return."
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First published: January 24, 2008
Despite his very young age, he is making ripples on the Toronto comedy scene. In a business where you barely find Africans let alone Ugandans, he is making a mark and goes by the moniker 'The African' or 'The Bishop'. Arthur Simeon Omaset is a Toronto-based Ugandan stand-up comedian and a regular at Yuk Yuks Comedy clubs, one of the most popular Canadian comedy chains. That he has made it thus far is no simple feat, as many comedians compete to gain the kind of popularity that he enjoys.
Ugandan Comedian Arthur Simeon Omaset
Born in Kampala, Uganda on November 14, 1983, Arthur Simeon moved to Canada and it was in Toronto that he first tried his hand at stand-up comedy as a teenager. In June 2007, he headlined the Nubian Disciples of Pryor Comedy showcase at Yuk Yuks Comedy Club in Toronto. He has showcased his talent in Just for Laughs at The All Black Comedy Show in Toronto and was a finalist in the Ed Pollack talent search during the Hogtown Comedy Festival. Arthur Simeon, who describes himself as a consummate performer, has been seen on stages across Ontario at places like Rivoli and Betty's. He was part of Accent in Toronto on November the 22nd, 2007 at the Danforth Music Hall. Jane Musoke-Nteyafas met him for a chat.
Jane: Who is Arthur Simeon?
Arthur: Arthur Simeon Omaset is a comedian born on November 14th 1983 in Kampala, Uganda to James Omaset and Mary Nannono. I come from a very close large family, which was not unusual in Uganda at the time. I have lived in Canada for 5 years now and I have been doing stand-up comedy for about a year and a half.
How did you come to move to Toronto?
Well, I came to Canada to go to school in Peterborough, Ontario. After I started doing comedy, I had to move to Toronto because that was where most of the work was.
So what is with the nickname 'The Bishop'?
'The Bishop' is a name that came out of a conversation I had with one of my life-long friends back in Uganda. He is part of a rap group known as Klear Kut and goes by the name 'The Mith'. I used to call him 'The Godfather' because it was a time when we thought nicknames were cool and I wanted one. Therefore, with my Catholic background and obsession with the works of Mario Puzo and Robert Ludlum, we settled on 'The Bishop' and it stuck.
What led you towards stand-up comedy?
I guess, to be honest, my life did. In high school, I always hosted birthday parties and school concerts. In college, I hosted many different cultural events and everyone seemed to find me funny. I also started watching a lot of stand-up comedy and was fascinated by the art. The first act I ever saw was Ellen DeGeneres and I thought it was amazing that someone could go in front of people with nothing but a microphone and get people to laugh. When I finally got the guts to step up on a stage, I did okay and the MC asked me to return. After the 2nd time, I was pretty much hooked!
Arthur Simeon Omaset.
What are the perks of being a stand-up comedian?
The greatest perk of all is being able to make someone laugh, to lighten the mood and help people have a memorable time - if done properly! Of course, that is not always the case; some nights are memorable for the wrong reasons. You also get to hang out with funny people all the time. Travelling and making new friends is a great advantage too!
As the lone Ugandan in that business in Toronto and probably all of Canada, do you feel extra pressure to represent us?
As the lone Ugandan, I do feel a lot of pressure but it is a good kind of pressure and I have been a pioneer of sorts. So, it is always fulfilling to find that perhaps more Ugandans and Africans can pursue this particular brand of entertainment. Comedians are basically storytellers and Africans definitely have many stories to tell.
What about as a black man? Any pressures?
Obviously, in an industry that does not have that many successful black men or women, it is always tough to get noticed. It was for me, especially as I am black and foreign to Canadian culture. But nothing comes easy and when the racial barrier is breached, nothing is impossible. I also do not fit the stereotypical image of a black comedian, so that makes me stand out a little more.
How do the crowds react to your comedy?
So far they are enjoying it and I honestly hope that it stays that way.
How do you come up with your jokes? Do you improvise on the spot or do you have to practice?
I write my jokes based on my experiences and those of my friends. I read and analyse novels and newspapers for stuff that will catch my interest and also study the people that are around me, including strangers, to find the funny bits in human behaviour. There is always something funny everywhere - if you look hard enough!
Do you get nervous before you go on stage?
Every single time! Up until I have the microphone in my hand, I am a bag of nerves!
Did you get training for stand-up comedy or is it purely talent?
I never did get any formal training but I have been making fun of stuff since high school in Uganda. So, I would count that as training of sorts. I do not think you can be trained to make people laugh. I think it is a combination of natural talent and the confidence to get on stage plus plenty of experience.
You are the host of the successful Princes of Comedy Series. Please tell us more about that.
The Princes of Comedy was born out of the frustration of not being able to get more stage time in Toronto. I also realised that a lot of places outside the big cities do not get to see stand up comedy. I got a bunch of friends together and we did our first show in September of 2006 in Peterborough. It was a resounding success and we decided to market it to other small towns - especially college towns. We have since performed in Halifax and Ottawa and are continuing to push our name and brand to get bigger audiences. It is a show aimed at a young crowd (18 - 30), so it is fun, smart and very volatile. Anything can happen!
Which interesting people did you get to meet while doing stand-up comedy?
Well, I do not know what you mean by interesting people, because they come in all shapes and sizes. I have met some successful comedians; Canadian, British and American. I have met radio personalities in Toronto, disc jockeys, actors, dancers and even NBA players. Crazy members of the audience are very interesting but that is a long list and most of it inspires my material.
What are your aspirations?
Mostly to get my voice heard. I want to travel and try to market my culture through my art. I want to attend and perform at the Cape Town comedy festival because it is the biggest African comedy festival. My long term plans include putting together my one man show and working for Ugandan television, because it is a medium that is growing and can be a powerful educational and entertainment tool.
Who is your favourite stand-up comedian?
I really do not have just one, because I have watched so many. Some of the funniest I have had the pleasure of watching are not even famous outside Canadian comedy circles. Among the famous ones, Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Richard Pryor are some of the names that come to mind. Anyone who aspires to become a comedian should definitely watch Richard Pryor (RIP) because he revolutionized comedy by making it okay to be edgy and honest!
Who have been your mentors along the way?
Kenny Robinson, who is a Canadian comedy legend, has been inspirational in my career. He gave me my first break, guided me through my first year and introduced me to people who enhanced my career. I owe him a lot. Many of the veteran comedians in Canada have also been great mentors; people like Jason Rouse and Gavin Stevens have had some really good advice for me.
Arthur Simeon Omaset.
Do you do take part in other types of performances?
I have tried sketch comedy and I am improving but I am mainly a stand up kind of guy!
What is your marital status? Do you have time to date, if single?
I'm single and dating is hard with the days I spend on the road. Nevertheless, if the right person comes along (I know it sounds so much like a cliché), she would have to be very patient and understanding.
What books are you reading at the moment?
Sowing the Mustard Seed, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Angel Eyes, Kaisho, 5 People You Meet In Heaven, Heart Of The Matter, Tess Of The D'Ubervilles, Rainbow Six, Angels and Demons, Things Fall Apart, The River Between...
Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, Bob Marley, Morgan Heritage, Nas, Jadakiss, Bongo Flavour (East African Bashment Crew), jazz, classic soul and lots of reggae will always be good for the mind, body and spirit.
What can we expect from Arthur Simeon in the near future?
Well, I am performing at Accent in Toronto this year; it is an annual comedy show celebrating the diversity of the city. It has been graced by comedy greats like Russell Peters in the past, so I am excited to be following in such acclaimed footsteps. I'm also preparing a one-man show that I hope to take back to Uganda and will hopefully be received well.
For more information on Arthur Simeon Omaset please go to www.myspace.com/bishopcomedy.
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First published: January 24, 2008
Jane won the Miss Africanada beauty pageant 2000 in Toronto where she was also named one of the new voices of Africa after reciting one of her poems. In 2004, she was published in T-Dot Griots-An Anthology of Toronto's Black storytellers and in February 2005, her art piece Namyenya was featured as the poster piece for the Human Rights through Art-Black History Month Exhibit.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry, art and playwriting and is becoming a household name in Toronto circles. Please visit her website at www.nteyafas.com.