Funerary comedies in contemporary Kinshasa: social difference, urban communities and the emergence of a new cultural form

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The article situates a new type of stand-up comedy, performed in Kinshasa's mourning spaces (matanga), within the city's social universe. This type of funerary joking, enacted by comedians unrelated to the bereaved, represents a clear departure from the customary funerary humour in which accepted jokers occupy particular social positions vis-à-vis the deceased. Following recent changes in the organization of mourning rituals within the circles of Kinshasa's wealthy, these rather intimate events are ever more open to ‘strangers’, who anticipate the spending capacities of the gathered crowd. Comedians constitute one among a wide range of outsider groups who approach the bereaved community as a space of opportunity. It is argued that this emergent cultural form is utterly urban, and could only appear within urban life worlds where conviviality with others, and in particular an understanding of people's need to make a living in precarious circumstances, transforms the mourning community into an audience that pays for a cultural performance. Humour is not only derived from a symbolic difference between the poor and the rich, but also through the performance of exaggerated flattery, producing the illusion of patronage and situating the comedian within a feigned patron–client relationship for the duration of that performance.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)457-477
Issue number3
Early online date9 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015