Cadbury conference - Class in Africa: A Reassessment location:University of Birmingham date:15-16 May 2014
In this paper I analyze the performance of humor and laughter and how it is related to social division in contemporary Kinshasa. Stand-up comedy performed by young men has emerged in recent years. One can attend one-man shows on terraces and in bars, watch these on television, and, in particular, participate in these during the closure of mourning rituals. Class is first of all an important issue in the content of the jokes, where differences between “those with money” (Lingala bato ya mbongo) and “those without” (bampiaka) are being emphasized in terms of language proficiency, cosmopolitan knowledge, and (im-)mobility within the city. Yet, class also emerges as an organizing principle in the performance of the comedians when they select the bars, terraces and mourning spaces in which to play. The performance of stand-up comedy is inherently related to the comedians’ imagination of the financial status of their audience. This paper will contribute to a renewed understanding of class production and performance in contemporary central Africa. By focusing on popular culture and urban space in the analysis of societal division, we are able to bring in a fresh perspective on the study of societal stratification in postcolonial African cities, currently dominated by idioms of patronage, clientelism, and state elite.