Culture

What’s funny about the refugee crisis?

The refugee crisis may not be the easiest subject for a comedian to take on but Loraine Masiya Mponela is standing up for refugees by making people laugh. The Malawi-born comic shares her best gags with The Big Issue

am from Malawi. I was struck by what the Malawian comedian Daliso Chaponda said on Britain’s Got Talent – that he is the only stand-up comedian in Malawi!

I thought, what kind of people are we, who don’t laugh?

During the pandemic I have been watching No Direction Home comedy shows online. I even recorded a few ‘I am not a comedian’ videos on YouTube of myself having a go at comedy. But don’t waste your time checking them, unless you just want to dedicate some time to adoring my face.

Last year, I was having a conversation with Megan from Coventry City of Culture 2021. She asked me if I would consider to be part of the upcoming comedy training. My first reaction was: “OMG, do I look like a comedian?” I quickly remembered Daliso Chaponda’s words and I thought, this is my chance now to learn the art of laughing, which I missed growing up in Malawi.

I am also a poet. Poetry is strange – people don’t normally laugh when I recite a poem. Does a poem ever get a laugh? I tried to recite one of my romantic poems. They all looked down. One said, “That was intimate.” Maybe I’ll revive it for my next comedy gig…

The comedy training was a game changer. It felt awkward at times during training when you think you have written a good joke, but no-one laughs or even smiles. Then I could say something else I didn’t even know was funny and people would be in hysterics. I saw myself saying things that didn’t make sense at all, although I thought it was fun, to being on stage and making people laugh.

Britain's Got Talent - A Big Celebration in aid of Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool, UK - 11 Feb 2018
Loraine Masiya Mponela

Horsing around

I remember the first joke I shared about my experiences at riding school.

I said, “I was told to get on a giant horse. I looked around to see if there was an escalator to help me get up there, because it was such a big horse.

“There was no escalator. I asked the horse trainer, ‘Are you guys going to hoist me on to the horse?’

“The trainer said, ‘No.’ I started sweating.”

The way the audience laughed at this made me laugh. I am having the best moments of my life.

My dream is to make the prime minister laugh. He’s been through stuff, but not as much as we are being stressed with his New Plan for Immigration.

If I can manage six hours talking to the Home Office, I can talk to anyoneLoraine Masiya Mponela

My name is…

After seven years of being an asylum seeker, I’ve learned to save myself time. When anyone asks me, “What is your name?” I say, “My name is Asylum Seeker.”

Because people don’t always remember the name Loraine, but they always remember asylum seeker.

Whenever I go into a Starbucks, they say, “What name?”

I say, “Asylum Seeker.”

It’s fun for me to hear them say, “Large cappuccino for… erm… As… Asylum… Did anyone order a large cappuccino?”

When I am at a refugee charity and they call me “asylum seeker”, the whole crowd steps forward. I’ve made a banner that says: “My name is Asylum Seeker” so no-one has to ask my name ever again.

Home Office interviews wind me up

They send a letter: “Your interview is at 9.30am.”

I turn up, get searched and the interview starts.

They ask: “Why are you here?”

I answer: “To attend the interview.”

Home Office: “I know. I am asking, why did you decide to come to the UK?”

I am tempted to say, “You know why people come here: for the warm reception the Home Office is famous for…”

Then I say to him: “Because I am a refugee.”

Home Office: “No, who told you that you are a refugee? You don’t call yourself a refugee until the Home Office decides. You came here by foot from your country, Uganda.”

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I argue again. “I am not from Uganda, I am from Malawi. Someone has to be a witch of the witches to be able to walk on foot from Malawi to the UK. Do I look like a witch?”

We spend six hours arguing and still no agreement. Then he asks: “When are you going back?”

I respond: “When this interview is over.”

Home Office: “You see, you lied that you are a refugee – now you want to go back.”

They’re REALLY helpful…

I just want to give up because arguing with the Home Office is like trying to put sense into a drunk child.

Like people who say, “Refugees have accents, we can’t understand what they are saying.”

My answer: “If you can understand half the people on Love Island, you can understand me.”

If it is the volume, I have the loudest voice, as long as you are OK with my voice being raised. You have a choice there. If I can manage six hours talking to the Home Office, I can talk to anyone.

Thanks for reading. Good day – I have been Loraine.

No Direction Home is part of Counterpoints Arts’ PopChange work

The Big Issue’s Refugee Special is out now. Get your copy from vendors around the UK. If you cannot reach local your vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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