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Monday, December 7, 2009

Saved by grace: What you didn’t know about Uganda’s finest standup comedian

Way before Kenneth “Pablo” Kimuli won the Mnet Standup Uganda contest,
what many possibly don’t know is that he endured difficulties that drove him to find solace in the cigarette and bottle, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza.

“If it had not been for divine intervention, I would be dead by now,” he says emphatically. “I say this because most of the people I used to drink with are wasted and some of them have died.”

At one time, a hardup Pablo used to tell jokes in bars for free booze and cigarettes.
Pablo’s misfortunes began in 1988 after the death of his father, and his mother five years later. His uncle paid his secondary school tuition fees and relinquished the responsibility to Pablo’s elder sister. “When I joined Namasagali University, I didn’t know I would complete school. I was lucky I knew the registrar and the bursar, who allowed me to pay in installments. I even finished paying tuition a month after graduation.”

Pablo graduated in 2003 with fantasies of a great job and lots of money. But he was met with harder times and soon wore out the soles of his shoes hunting for jobs. He tried out newspaper reporting but his articles were binned. “I wrote an article about a cobbler who mended Janet Museveni’s shoes when she was still at Bweranyangi Girls’ School. I used my money to go to the village to interview him but the story was not published. I’ll also never forget the day I went to interview Cecilia Ogwal about the tender she got to supply the UPDF food. Aya ya ya, it was war! She threw me out of her office!”

Pablo would walk from Kikoni in Makerere where he used to share “a hole” with a friend and sometimes go without meals because he had no money. He renewed his “good relationship with the bottle” which he had started in his long vacation. His clique, called “gango” (from gang) comprised five girls and four boys: “We used to “catch a swallow” in different spots in Ntinda.

I’ll never forget when we sat at The Deep and drank from 6p.m to 10a.m. We were more less like pimps because most of these girls were dating big men especially in the army. They would tell us, “You guys just stay and we shall be back.” They would order us drinks, so our job was to drink their pocket change.”
Pablo pauses and continues wistfully: “Sometimes we would drink with the late Allan Cantankerous. That is when my comic side came out. There would be CMI guys and I would tell stories, they would laugh and one of them would say, ‘Give that boy a beer.’ I told more stories in exchange for booze. I look back and realise that I truly boozed. My breath was so hot it could even light a cigarette. Six years since I last touched booze but I still feel tipsy!”
In all this, Pablo would on Sunday still stagger to St Luke Church in Ntinda, even if it was “just for formality.” Ironically, he didn’t get saved in church. He had just returned from The Deep when it hit him that he was tired of being inebriated. His thoughts oscillated between past sins and sudden fear and guilt. He sat down and switched on the television. Behold, Joyce Mayer was preaching!
“She was saying, “You have done everything, it’s time to let go and embrace God; aren’t you tired of serving the world?” And it made sense to me. I reached up for my Bible and the first verse I read, Ephesians 6: 17, became my favourite verse. It says “Put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God.” Then I recited the prayer Joyce Meyer asked those who wanted to get saved to say after her. But I didn’t feel satisfied. I said ‘Lord, if it’s real, then give me a sign’ and right there, my hands started trembling, and all of a sudden, I started crying…”

Pablo even cast his burden of nine years of smoking unto the Lord. They say old habits die hard but the intoxicating presence of the Holy Spirit could not let Pablo turn back. He joined KPC (now Watoto Church), attended discipleship classes and got baptised.  “I was broke so I decided that if people could tithe money, I could also tithe time,” he says. “Of the 24 hours in the day, a tenth of that would be tithe; divided between prayer and Bible study. I called it praying without ceasing and it has helped me check myself.”

Pablo joined the church’s drama team and started the Ha Ha Group of Comics that endeared him to many. Power FM noticed his talent and hired him to tell jokes on the radio. His metamorphosis inspired some of his drinking mates to turn to Christ as well. It didn’t take long before he became Theatre Factory’s hottest property, and Power FM’s. He started minting good money from emceeing gigs and from directing the Rock Point 256 radio drama series.

But he realised that many comedians rely on sexual innuendo, a path he didn’t want to take lest it corrupted his spirituality. He recently started the Pablo Live Show to help budding comedians “do clean comedy. I don’t want the M-net crew to come to Uganda two years down the road and ask what I’ve done since I was crowned Uganda’s King of comedy and have nothing to sghow for it.”

Pablo thanks God everyday for saving him and changing his lifestyle, for he believes if he had stayed in bars cracking “under-the-belt jokes” in exchange for booze, he would have drank himself slowly but steadily to death!  
--Sunday Monitor, September 27, 2009