Athena Kugblenu has been a comedian for about six years now, and professionally travelling around the world performing her stand-up for about two. From the Johannesburg Comedy Festival, to a ski chalet in Austria, and even an impromptu (and perhaps slightly unexpected) Christmas party gig on the dance floor at 1am – Kugblenu has been around the block.
“The worst is where you have to go and perform comedy in a place where people just don’t want comedy,” she says. “They said ‘hey guys, you’re going to have some comedy’ when everyone was already dancing, and then the dance floor just parted and there was me stood there, awkwardly. You can’t just stick a comedian anywhere and expect them to make everyone howl with laughter.”
That said, Kugblenu will be in the right place at the right time when she makes her Dubai debut at the Madinat Theatre in Souk Madinat between Wednesday February 28 and Friday March 2 – bringing with her a politically charged but home-grown style of comedy that’s heavily influenced and inspired by her own life experiences.
“I’m quite a political comedian, I do a lot on race and politics and culture and stuff like that, so it’s very exciting for me – and the organisers seemed to think that might go down great in Dubai,” she says. “Obviously I’ll talk a lot about other things as well, but I put my own tinge on things. Generally speaking life experience is fairly universal and people find other life experiences very easy to relate to. I talk about universal truths, but also in a personal way – I don’t talk about things I haven’t experienced.”
In an age where the whole world is able to instantly share opinion on current affairs and, perhaps inflammatorily, social and political issues on social media – political comedy can be something of a divisive art nowadays. So how does Kugblenu’s blend of home-grown, experience-based comedy and politics go down on an international scene?
“Thankfully it’s gone down great,” she says. “Obviously the main challenge and part of playing in front of an international audience is getting rid of the main British references. Also, I look for the jokes first, and the message second. That’s the most important thing.”
And ahead of her visit to Dubai, which regularly brings top comedians to its shores, including the imminent visit of Dara Ó Briain, Kugblenu has words of encouragement for young comedians looking to find their voice, or to overcome the inevitable self-doubt that comes with putting yourself out there with the sole aim of making people laugh.
“I’ve met people through my life who I think would be brilliant comedians, but they don’t think so for some reason. I think humility is the main thing, if you don’t think you’re terrible you’ll go on stage and put out lacklustre stuff. But if you’re always trying to improve and you never think you’re good enough, that’s great for comedy, and you’ll be great.” From Dhs150. Wed Feb 28-Fri Mar 2. Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim, www.montreuxcomedy.com.