Comedians in the Congo Are Taking Their Act to Funerals—and It’s a Sweet Relief

The country is notorious for violent conflict, but one troupe is helping grieving families turn tears into laughter.

(Photo: BBC/YouTube)

Jul 5, 2015· 1 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

Even amid tragedy, there can be joy—at least that’s the encouraging message three young comedians are spreading in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where major and minor conflicts have claimed the lives of millions since the mid-1990s.

The three local actors—Junior Lamusasa Ekolo, Oliver Pindi Mikungu, and Rocher Libaku—who call themselves Les Papiers Mouchoirs, or “paper tissues,” are making appearances at funerals in an effort to help turn people’s tears into laughter while earning a livable income, the BBC reported.

At first, it was difficult,” Ekolo told the BBC. “A lot of people were shocked to see us, but now what we do has become very important. Everyone prefers to have comedians.”

Here in the Congo, there are funerals every day,” Libaku said. And thanks to those funerals, I can feed my family.”

Locals work hard to prepare for funerals, he explained, buying new clothes and often bringing money with them to purchase items after a funeral ceremony. As the trio discovered, attendees are also willing to pay for a little entertainment during a time of sadness—no small feat in a country where over half the population lives below the poverty line and survives on less than $1 per day.

The three, who perform physical comedy in a variety of costumes, interact with mourners and even participate in the funeral procession alongside the casket.

“I always says laughing is a medicine,” said Ekolo. “When you laugh, you won’t grow old. What we do is bring joy where there is sadness.”

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So, Why Should You Care? Between the First and Second Congo Wars (1996–2003), and the yearlong M23 rebellion that began in 2012, the death toll from conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the highest in Africa, with approximately 3 to 5 million lives lost. Today, the people of the Congo are still caught in the crossfire of continuous political instability as armed rebel groups attack civilians and state security forces carry out extrajudicial killings, rapes, and kidnappings, according to Human Rights Watch. The grim reality is exactly why comedy is a welcome outlet in the wake of grief, according to the comedians.

“Theater is distraction,” said Libaku. “It’s joy, it’s consolation…that’s why we love theater.”

So far, their act is winning hearts along the way.

“We think this has brought us some of the joy we have lost,” a young girl attending her grandmother’s funeral told the BBC. “We have cried so much for our grandmother now that her body is gone. And the comedians have given us joy.”