By: Rodney Sieh
Monrovia – Marit Woods’ love of a good laugh is rubbing off on the rest of Liberia. What started as an initiative aimed at showcasing the talents of a group of untapped Liberian comedians, abandoned and outcast, is rapidly becoming a weekend therapy for a good time in a nation still recovering from more than a decade of war.
“I love comedy and one day I woke up wanting to go somewhere to sit and laugh some troubles away and no such place existed, so I decided to create a place,” says Woods.
That place for Woods, and many Liberians aiming for therapy of laughter has been nurtured in Laugh Out Loud Liberia (LOLL), the initiative which unveils the best of the best in Liberia’s comedic circle in spurts of performances the last weekend of every month, at various locations in Monrovia.
The entertainment industry in Liberia has for years been regarded as one of the least haven for anyone looking to make a living. From musicians to those aiming for a career in the movies, the obstacles have been enormous and the challenges troubling.
Now Woods is hoping that the creation of a platform for young and talented young Liberians to showcase their untapped potentials will change the trend and introduce Liberia to a new kind of entertainment.
Her first show at the Boulevard Cafe recently received rave reviews and a huge turnout, so much so that some guests had to be turned away because there was not enough space.
“We really were not expecting that many to show up! I was so impress and ecstatic that people feel there is a need for comedy!,” Woods says. The debut show’s success has prompted Woods to book more shows.
“The feedback has been great. From my assessment of those feedback given from the first show suggest that there is a need, and I want to ensure that more Liberians understand the importance of comedy and embrace their brothers and sisters who are committed to the craft.”
Two other shows have already been lined up, one at Palm Springs and the other Jamal’s.
Looking to build up and learn from the first show, Woods says she is currently eyeing a bigger venue to utilize for shows once a month.
“We are still working on the days of upcoming shows as we want them to be in locations that are accessible to people looking for a good laugh and those living in different parts of Monrovia. “We will be posting upcoming shows on our Face book page at: LINK
Woods is however cautious of not overplaying the initial successes and reactions to the shows. While she is looking to play at bigger venues, she says it will be a slow process.
“People are already suggesting we start doing show at stadiums, but I believe if you rush you will crush. This is new and I want to make sure everyone is on the same page, we understand the needs of the audience, and then we can start going big. For now I want to keep it small and manageable until all the comedians we are working with can stand in front of any type of crowd with confidence and have them laughing out loud.”
Given the manner in which people live and the things they go through on a daily basis in Liberia, Woods says she felt there was a need to introduce comedy. Thus, I started looking for Liberian comedians who were committed to making people laugh. I love comedy and over the years it has been great way for me to relax and de-stress myself. Given where Liberians are today I thought starting a comedy show will be a great way to entertain and a great escape from the daily tensions.”
But despite her drive, Woods says the scouting process has been a challenge. “Talent is in abundance but professionals are not. The challenge was and is scouting for professional comedians. Majority of the individuals that were scouted through rehearsals in my opinion are not professionals yet, but they have the ability to become professional if they have the right people to guide them. That is one of the reasons why I am collaborating with Quincy T, regarded as the Godfather of comedy in Liberia today.”
A key reason why previous efforts to showcase the talents of untapped comedians did not materialize, Woods says is that many of the comedians fell prey to scheming promoters who never sought their interest.
“Most of the comedians we are working with had their talent abused in the past and it has discourage them from trusting outsiders especially someone like me who does not have any background in comedy. I believe with the plan we have we will overcome those challenges and produce good comedians in the near future.”
With the entertainment industry having suffered a rust in the past few years, many are looking to see how this latest attempt at comedy will play out. In the past, both movie and music industries have experienced difficulties in growth, exposure and gaining crossover appeal with the exception of a few like Miatta Fahnbulleh, Zack and Gebah and more recently David Mell, Sundaygar Dearboy and a handful of others making inroads.
But Woods says a key reason for the minimal success has been the lack of resources and leadership. “In my opinion those industries have suffered due to the lack of leadership and resource. LOLL is not only showcasing local comedians, but giving comedian the tools necessary to demonstrate good leadership skills by the manner in which they conduct themselves on and off stage, at the same time buying into the vision of making others happy and not solely seeking profit.”
Quincy T regarded as the Godfather of the Comedians and a mentor to most has been instrumental in helping to mobilize and coach the comedians. T’s quirky jokes and in-your-face comedy has rocketed him to the top as one, if not the best comedic talent in Liberia to date. T has taken his acts to a number of African countries and Europe and is currently working on a music album which many anticipate will be a hit.
DUKE MURPHY DENNIS
Dennis hails from Sinoe County and started comedy at an early age but became a professional eight years ago in Ghana. He is a high school graduate and holds a diploma from the BWI/Phelps Stoke Funds Project, in agriculture. He is also the father of a beautiful girl call “TOY”. Dennis is currently employed at ELRM 92.1 FM as a program producer, presenter and comedian. Dennis says he decided to make comedy a profession 8 years ago while in exile in neighboring Ghana. “I realize that, it makes me content to bring laughter to others, thus I want to keep you laughing.”
ABRAHAM S. LABELLA AKA ‘AZONIC’
“Azonic” like Dennis lived and was schooled in Ghana, and Nigeria. He is married with a beautiful wife and lovely girl. “After my high school in Ghana, I attended the TMI acting school, and study camera as well as comedy. My forte is acting, and comedy. I have over 7 years of on standup comedy experience. It will interest you to know that am a servant of God (Pastor). I hold an associate degree in Theology and am a TV presenter, also working on my BA at the Spiritual Life Bible College.”
PRINCE ‘Pinko’ CHELLEY
‘Pinko is a graduate from Monrovia College and works as a comic for Radio Monrovia who has been working the comedy circuit for three years now.
ROSELINE ‘Ma Mary’ WHEELER
Wheeler who hails from Bong County says for as she can remember, she has always found herself encouraging friends and relatives who were stressed and depressed through comedy.
“I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Josephine Borbor who inspired me to become a professional comedian. Since then I have indulge in perfecting my comedy, and have had the opportunity to perform around Liberia. I love making others laugh, and hope to continue on this path!”
What sets LOLL apart, Woods says is the fact that it is about the comedians who
are willing to learn and not looking to get rich over night. “I believe if the comedians work hard, commit to the set goals and process that are in place, we will excel through hard work and dedication. My dream is to one day see comedians like Azonic, Ma Mary, Pinko, performing on international proclaim network like comedy central, BBC, etc…”
Through comedy, Woods says she is looking toward taking everyday experiences in Liberia and packaging it for comedic purposes. “So when they walk out of our shows they don’t see those realities as something holding them back, but just another joke to laugh at and move on.”
For the foreseeable future, Woods is hoping that what started as a love the sound of laughter would help jumpstart the entertainment industry in post-war Liberia.
“I believe it is time that Liberians start laughing. You walk down the streets of Monrovia and there are too many gloomy faces. I want to bring smile to those gloomy faces but I also want the comedians to start acquiring basic leadership skills that can help them in other parts of their lives.
I am hoping this will be a platform not only for comedians to showcase their talent but local artists in other domains who are still crafting their art to get the exposure and ability to perform on stage in front of a supportive audience. I am sick of seeing Liberians investing and being proud of other African artists and not their own.”
Sieh is editor and publisher of the Frontpage Africa. This piece is culled from the FPA.
Pic: MARIT WOODS, MONROVIA, LIBERIA