Jammy is a well-known impressionist from Ethiopia who has performed at popular venues and on local TVs in Addis Ababa. He uses humour as a tool to address social-political issues and mostly uses social media for outreach. Jammy’s purpose goes beyond Ethiopia; he wants to get access to international platforms to present the true narrative of his country in contrast to the stereotypes frequently pushed by foreign media.
To start off, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way into the world of comedy and social-political commentary?
My name is Abiy Melak, but you can call me Jammy. I realised my knack for comedy and social-political commentary while studying for my degree in Management Information Systems (MIS). Since then, I started writing content and soon after I began receiving requests to perform stand-up shows at venues like Ghion Hotel, the African Union, and annual events like Guma Film Award. I also hosted a TV show on Kana Tv and joined a Radio Celebrity Prank Program. My interest in history and arts led me to delve into social-political commentary to challenge Ethiopia’s negative image propagated by international media.
It’s admirable how you use humour to tackle important issues. How do you strike a balance between delivering a comedic performance and conveying your message effectively?
To maintain a balance between humour and effectively conveying my message, I stay true to myself and embrace my entire persona. The key lies in being genuine and true to who I am, allowing my comedic act to blend seamlessly with the underlying message I want to convey.
Comedy indeed has a unique way of making complex subjects more accessible and initiating conversations. Could you share some examples of the social-political topics you address in your comedy?
Certainly! Comedy possesses a remarkable ability to simplify intricate subjects, making them easier to understand and sparking discussions. I tackle various social-political topics, including one notable example like the BBC’s dissemination of fake news concerning the war between the Ethiopian Government and the Rebels.
Your performance open’s people’s minds to new perspectives. How do you handle potential controversies or pushback when addressing sensitive topics?
I do practise self censorship to some level but my goal remains to broaden people’s horizons and inspire them to view things from fresh perspectives. Thankfully, I haven’t faced major issues, largely because most of my audience recognizes that my humour is intended purely for amusement. However, there are also those who can grasp the underlying messages within the jokes.
Social media platforms have empowered you to reach a wider audience. However, social media also has its downsides, such as online harassment, censorship and the spread of misinformation. Have you encountered any challenges or drawbacks in using social media as a comedian activist?
Using social media as a comedian activist has both positive and negative aspects. On one hand, it has allowed me to connect with a larger audience and make an impact. However, there are also challenges and drawbacks to consider; social media has both fans and haters, and sometimes speculators as well. I experienced a specific incident where I was suspected of impersonating a political figure by a YouTube channel. This happened while I was working on my TV show, and coincidentally, an audio of the figure leaked out. Since I was known for my impressions, they mistakenly believed it was me. This situation attracted a lot of negative attention for a few weeks. Eventually, they apologised, and we were able to resolve the misunderstanding. Life goes on, and I continue to navigate the complexities of social media.
How do you measure the impact of your work?
I evaluate the impact of my work through the global reach it has achieved in a relatively short time, thanks to the grace of God. My primary measure of success is when I witness smiles on people’s faces and receive feedback such as “you made my day” or “I needed this.” These reactions are clear indicators that my work is making a positive difference and leaving an impact on the lives of others. My ultimate goal is to present an authentic narrative of Ethiopia and the continent, aiming for a better future for all, especially the youth.
How do you envision your impressionist style evolving as we move into the future?
Despite the limitations, I see my impressions becoming a powerful tool for subtle commentary and reflection on societal issues. I would also like to connect with other like-minded artists on the continent because I believe that collaboration could open up new avenues for expression and revenue for me.
With the possibility of AI-generated material, do you think your impressions will remain appealing?
The human touch in my impressions is an integral aspect of my work that I believe will continue to maintain its appeal and relevance, even in the face of AI-generated content. While AI can mimic patterns and generate content quickly, it lacks the genuine emotional connection, cultural understanding, and subtle nuances that a human impressionist brings to their work.
Any final thoughts?
The international media has often fallen short in accurately portraying Ethiopia. As an impressionist, my aim is to utilise my craft to paint a precise and truthful image of my country, whether it’s in terms of politics or culture.