Brian Mulondo on How to Captivate Audiences with Humour

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to Brian Mulondo (BM) on How to Captivate Audiences with Humour

RK: Mulondo, it is a pleasure to have you on #360Mentor

BM: Thank you Robert for having me. I am so excited to be here.

RK: Brian, I want us to be serious. Today, we are not going to laugh.

BM: I am a bit worried about my ability not to laugh but let’s test it.

RK: Okay, I was told you’re born laughing. The moment you came out, you started laughing while pointing at your mother. But away from that, many people are wondering who this guy is?

BM: It’s so interesting, I was speaking to someone about two weeks ago and they said, “Brian you do like 65 jobs, what else do you do?” Right now, I host DMighty Breakfast on 93 KFM and I also run my own production house called Garage Group. I do a lot of emceeing and I have just started filming Pan African TV shows with people from other countries. That’s what I’m doing at the moment.

RK: Explain a little bit, what is a production house?

BM: With a particular focus on what we do at Garage; we are mostly doing TV content. And that’s mainly because it’s what I do. It’s what I have been exposed to for the last 18 years so we are mainly doing that. We also do documentaries. We have just started the podcast division of the company. We do live events and stuff like that. But our primary focus is production for TV content. We do short films, long feature films and series. We co-collaborate. One of our biggest dreams is to start distributing content. If you’ve seen what we call bisabuni/soaps, like Salvador, Maria the lost angel and the like…

RK: Mulondo, you’ve really looked for money!

BM: Money has to be looked for. There’s something you used to have on Bukedde, what was it called?

RK: There used to be one called “Inna

BM: Yes, that one. So we want to be the number one distributor of such content because we have got the contacts overtime. That is really what a production house like this is going to do. And maybe in the future as we grow our financial muscle we will bring on investors, we shall start commissioning films like you see Lions Gate, Destiny, they commission films for larger markets.

RK: I am going to ask you a very difficult question; what do you do on the DMighty breakfast on 93 KFM?

BM: Someone told me ‘you just laugh every morning.’

RK: How do you prepare for it?

BM: You know what’s so funny, I thought I was so hilarious until I met the producer of the show.

RK: Who is that?

BM: Joseph Beyanga.

RK: Beyanga is a clown. By the way, only Carol could be his wife. She is the only one that can manage him.

BM: Yes. Joseph Beyanga is the funniest man I have met in life.

RK: You know there is something about him, he tells his jokes with a very serious face.

BM: Yes. while you are all laughing he’s like “let’s move on” and you’re like let’s’ first catch up. Yeah, he is the one who produces the show. Even preparing for the show is an entire comedy show. Maritza is also silly. I once told them that I wish the preparation for the show was the real show because while we are talking about serious stuff, we have a lot of laughing going on. By the time we are delivering it in the morning, we have already laughed our hearts out.

RK: Brian, I want to take you back. How many are you in the family?

BM: We are really many. There are people out there who are my siblings that I don’t know about. When I was still at NTV, there was one who came and said he had been told we were brothers. So he was like, “I have my songs, can you play them on NTV?” I was like this is Aga Khan’s TV not mine.

But with my mother, we are three children and I am the first born. I was – for lack of a better word – already experiencing stuff on behalf of my siblings. My father left when I was in P7. The next time I saw him was like a month before my wedding. I have always grown up with my mother.

RK: That should not worry you. We’re also two boys raised by a single mother. There’s no problem there.

BM: Oh! I have always been in leadership at home. I guess the way I grew up pushed me to always seek opportunities but also to lead by example. And to always open opportunities for people, because that has essentially been my life. Because of the absence of a man in my life, I was always seeking men or people who inspire me to be the person I am.

We were a very small family. We were staying in Rubaga and when my mother got a job at Makerere University we relocated to Makerere. I am the only man who has successfully influenced the media, who went to the only university primary school in the world; Makerere University Primary School. I hear people call it “Yellow”. That’s not the name.

RK: Primary Yellow?

BM: You know I thought yellow was bad enough until I had of Kipipa. I was like, okay, I’ve arrived.

RK: Where’s Kipipa?

BM: Kipipa is at the top of the University hill. Way above the Faculty of Food Sciences. I gave up. I was like if there’s Kipipa then I am not doing that badly. I was there for my entire primary school. I was a leader and participated a lot in music. I remember even winning a bursary in P7. Prof Byarugaba was the chairman of the board at the time. At the end of P6 during MDD, he gave me a bursary for my P7 and a basin.

RK: Say that again, what did you win?

BM: A basin from Nice House of Plastics. Brand new.

RK: What colouur was it?

BM: Blue. But they wrapped it in a very big box, and I carried it all the way home with a lot of excitement. When I reached home and opened it things fell apart. But I really treasured that basin and kept it.

RK: Brian, before we continue, in Uganda when big people arrive, they recognise their presence. Let’s welcome Patrick Kanyomozi, the President of Ugandans on Twitter.

BM: He is the only president I know who has not named his cabinet in the first 100 days.

RK: He can’t. Hahaha.

Where did you go after Yellow?

BM: I went to Mengo Senior School. I was there for 6 years.

RK: Remind me, what job was your mum doing?

BM: My mum was what you people now call Executive Assistant. But back in the day, she was called a Secretary. She was a secretary to the then Head of the university hospital – Dr Jane Bbosa who has stayed a great friend of the family. But for us, we could not call her secretary. We called her doctor because she was working in a hospital. We used to run a small drug shop at home. Simple medicines.

RK: During this time, was there an opportunity that showed you that you were humorous or that you could make a living out of it? Or any about public speaking?

BM: With public speaking, I was always a leader in school. It was easy to talk to people, I was those guys who were blessed with a neat handwriting. The teachers trusted me to write on the blackboard. During the era of fountain pens. Some people will never know fountain pens.

RK: No, they cannot. They don’t even know that a basin was used for bathing. 

BM: A fountain pen helped me have a fantastic handwriting. I was always reading notes for students. I don’t know whether it is still the ideal term used, we used to say, dictating notes. That was me in school. But if you ask me one particular moment that catapulted me into the humor business, I can’t point a finger to it.

My parents were also musical people, my mum has a dark side of humour. My father was also an actor with the Black Pearls. We used to go to the Pride theatre to watch plays. I remember watching Ndiwulira. 

RK: Do you remember when Meddy Nsereko had glasses with wipers?

BM: I remember our father would always make jokes about those glasses. “I hope they don’t wipe away his eyebrows,” he would say. Those are the few memories I have with my father. We would watch him on stage acting. Life was good at the moment so I knew that maybe these things pay money after all. And he is also a very funny man. And you could say that is the moment I learnt about humor. But the things that have attracted me to the industry of TV and radio and making people happy was probably the rise of Peter Ssematimba.

RK: Hold on, I want to take you back a minute. You’re at Yellow, you went to Mengo Senior School, where did you go after?

BM: I went to Makerere University to study social sciences but majored in International Relations. I was always attracted to foreign service.

RK: You wanted to be a diplomat?

BM: Yes, I wanted to be a diplomat and I was very intentional about it. I studied germany from Mengo for the entire 6 years. I also did German studies at the university. I was very intentional about it.

RK: Then Ssematimba diverted you

BM: Ssematimba happened! Peter! Peter!

RK: So how did you cross paths with Peter?

BM: Peter has always been a cool guy, he shaped a lot in our day. Looking at how influential he was, I thought if I went through the diplomatic route, I’d be able to travel around the world but Peter looked so cool and I wanted some of that money. He was able to influence an entire culture. An entire generation. From events, to radio to production, the music.

RK: I think he had a recording studio as well

BM: Yes. Dungeon Studio. He’s always been the guy I always wanted to be like. He was so successful. He spoke very good English. He knew how to fit in wherever you put him. He was so incredible to me. At some time he had said that at 50, he would buy a personal jet. Who dreams of such dreams? I want to be in his space. Even if the plane never comes, at least he was able to have that dream. I have always pursued people who are really big dreamers. Peter is one of the people I must say inspired me to go on the path that I am.

RK: How do you then take on that journey? For me I was expecting you to be in Germany. How did you manage to find your way into the media?

BM: When I finished university, at one point I even considered joining the police.

RK: Eh!

BM: You know when you are poor, all options are open, boss!

RK: Mulondo, you’ve really looked for money! You don’t rule anything out. There are no choices.

BM: None at all. You can’t be poor and have choices at the same time. Whatever you get, you move. I wanted to be part of the police because in my head I thought I would be the first Ugandan police officer who looks like an American police officer with a deep voice, big waist,  a radio call and a big belt pack.

RK: Eating doughnuts.

BM: Anhaa! And with my own car. I thought I would be the first Ugandan police officer to transform the Uganda police. And now my daughter wants to be a policewoman because of the many detective movies we watch.

RK: These days it’s a drone.

BM: Man, and they just take you. You introduce yourself later. After four years.

But when I finished writing my last paper in 2004. A friend of mine was volunteering at Watoto. Then I went to see him and while I was there, he told me of a new project Watoto was setting up called Visit Africa and they would be getting teams from Europe, America, Australia to come and build homes. It is what is Watoto Villages now. These teams would come and fund raise and set up these buildings. So they were putting together a team of people who could take them around. I didn’t have a job and this was an answered prayer. The very day I finished my last paper was the day I got a job. The moment they said “all expenses paid” for me I was sorted even if there was no salary.

I had already got something to do. I was a tour guide at Watoto for seven years. I remember Gary Skinner telling us; “you are me when you are interfacing with the people who come here. You need to speak the vision of the church. The vision of Uganda, and the future of Uganda.” That made me appreciate this country more.

I interacted with more people. I compensated my diplomacy with VISIT AFRICA because I remember I met 30 new people every two weeks. During that time I met a very talented gentleman that Watoto had brought to set up a media department for the church. When it was set up, they started a new church bulletin called KPC NN then. It was a 5 minute bulletin in the middle of the service. Nigerian movies were in vogue at the time. When I saw what the presenters then were doing, I thought I could do something better. I sent a text message to Peter Mukiibi, the producer of the show at the time. He is also the founder of ADMAYA.

RK: Peter is a very talented guy.

BM: I sent him a text message. I asked him for one shot. If I messed it up, he didn’t have to give me another. And Peter called me. I delivered the news with another lady called Sylvia Bamusiime who is also a fantastic cinematographer at Admaya also. We delivered the news with a Nigerian Accent.

I tell you! When Pastor Gary saw the bulletin, he asked to meet me. From that time on, we delivered the news. I remember a massive church service at Namboole, we delivered it live without making a single mistake.

From there, a gentleman called James Owaragga, who was the Production Manager at NTV, called me to his office to talk. Meanwhile, when NTV had just come, they were sounding so boujee. I had benched them for a while but to no avail. I promised that they would look for me one day, and they did.

James  promised me that at any opportune moment he would seek me out. After some time, Peter Mukiibi told me of a TV show they wanted to start. It was a lifestyle show. I was doing it with a lady called Shiraz. We shot 15 episodes of that show. One complete season but you never got a dime. I worked for free.

RK: Which show was that?

BM: It was called “Better Living”. I think, to date, it’s one of those shows with the best graphics I have seen on a TV show in Uganda. When James saw that show, he got me to join the “Trick Stars”. That show brought me to the limelight.

RK: So you could say, that show brought you to mainstream media?

BM: Absolutely.

RK: Which year was this now?

BM: It was 2009 thereabout. That’s when I joined NTV as a presenter. It used to air on Sundays. That show opened doors for me. We shot 15 seasons.

RK: In brief, it launched you.

BM: I can say that again; it really launched me. By the time the world cup came, MTN was the presenter for a campaign where they were giving out housing estates in  Namungoona. I did a field segment for tht show. Abby Mukiibi was also on that show. I was presenting a clip of 5 mins and I was paid UGX 500,000. I was surprised. I was not about to bow out.

RK: Now that you have become a superstar, is this how you met our friend Manuela?

BM: Haa, Robert, we need an independent session  for that. She really gave me headache. 7 Years of chasing.

RK: Tell me something, looking back, what are those things you think have helped you to get to this level?

BM: I have always believed that the world of media is divided into two areas. There is the media that pursues serious content and therefore serves a more serious audience.

RK: Like us here on this show? We are serious people

BM: Yes. There is that part of the media. But there is also the part that produces the less serious content which the serious people call unserious. But it is a driver of joy and laughter. Comic relief.

To me I made a decision that no matter how high profile a person is, their number one desire is to pursue joy in this world. Those are the things we are seeking for. But very few people in the world are seeking serious things.

The day job. The 9-5pm takes the life out of us. The pursuit for being MDs, CEOs, performers beats the hell out of us. At the end of the day, all of us retreat to their bed seeking something to bring them joy and laughter. And they will make sure they pursue it for as long as they can.

I thought that well, I need to package the serious content for the less serious people. That is how I believe that Trick Stars was comical but it was also teaching people. The bafere were not discriminating in robbing people, they were stealing from the less privileged and the high end people at the same time. We had to be the bridge between the two groups. It is what Bobi Wine calls Edutainment. So you do a product that brings both sides of the media to equilibrium. I believe that is what made me a success.

RK: So your career, from that point onwards, where does it take you? How do you end up on KFM?

BM: After that airtel came up with very many campaigns and I was making people dance to win money.

RK: Were you standing in that box where they would blow money?

BM: Anhaa that one. Robert, you know that money is really awesome. A 70 year old man came with a walking stick but he entered that booth and picked money. He said that was his first encounter in life with such lots of money in one place. Even for me, it stopped being just  a show where people won money. It became a connection with people’s lives and stories. And wherever I go to date, I still meet people who tell me they took part in the game.

I remember one time Dave Kazoora who was the producer of those shows, he really helped me in my career at the time. We did the airtel promos together. One time when Joe Munene was still the Head of NTV, he called me to his office and told me of an opportunity he and two other colleagues of his thought would be good for me. The concept of Mini BUZZ. I was singled out to run it.

It was a heavy show to produce. You had to give people a free ride to town in exchange for their views. Again, remember what I said about the serious and less serious media. That show was less serious. And the media cuts across those two. In the bus, you have all kinds of people, someone chasing a corporate career and someone who is just going to figure things out.

RK: Alan Kasujja created a new word for that called Yiyyist. Like you Mulondo, you are a yiyyist.

BM: We are many. That show exposed me so much. It was a daily show and aired at a very prime time – 6:30 pm towards the news. We got the ratings. I was with Anne Kansiime. It taught me the delicate balance between the serious and less serious content.

Anne was just too much, she also became a sensation and broke out. Even for me, Mini Buzz taught me to appreciate news as it is. After that, I joined NTV. For the longest time, they had been trying to start a breakfast show. It was Peter Igaga who reached out and asked if I could join. 

I joined the crew and we did a couple of tests. I was with Mabel Kebirungi, Joel Senyonyi and Simon Kasyate.

RK: Our Joel Senyonyi?

BM: Eish! That one. before the “struggle” had taken him over. But he was still using  dangerous words. We came together and delivered the best TV experience. We were on the rooftop of Serena with the view of Kampala City in the background and it was so captivating. I remember one of the days, Mable Kebirungi was not available to do the show and she would do a news wrapup in the first 15 minutes of the show.and she wasn’t there that day.

RK: And you became Mabel Kebirungi.

BM:  Exactly. And the producer told me about the news wrapup. I was already on the rooftop. I didn’t have a teleprompter. They just printed out the news and brought it. We used to deliver three stories from the previous night and I delivered those stories.

It was Simon Kasyate who asked the producer, you know he is uncouth. ” He asked: “does this lumpen have a teleprompter?” I could hear him and they told him, “… no he is just reading off the paper”. Then he said: “he is actually good.”

When I heard that, I just went into the news manager’s office, it was Maurice Mugisha. “Maurice, they said I am good, I want to be on news.”

But you know Maurice, he asked me to take it slow. We had to do a screen test and alas, I got onto primetime news. But also the news at NTV, it had a certain structure. It was too serious. My underlying passion has always been to connect both sides despite the intensity of the story. But I thought we needed to make it more relatable. More consumable. I stand to be corrected but I am probably the one who introduced the most robust news intros in news anchoring in uganda. I can claim that victory for sure. You’ve watched Wolf Blitzer, even if you don’t want to watch the news, you are compelled to stay and watch.

That helped me fall in love more with news. When that was done KFM came calling and I joined D’Mighty Breakfast where I have been for the last 4 years.

RK: Basically you are looking at 17 years of a long winded journey from a tour guide, a Nigerian-wanna-be newscaster, but I have a question for you; what is the difference between being funny and having a sense of humour? How do you deal with the pressure of being humorous and being taken seriously?

BM: I will be honest with you. That has been one of the biggest struggles because people find it so hard to get you out of the box they want you to be in. I remember when I became a news anchor, the first bulletin everyone was saying “I wanted to laugh when Mulondo was anchoring.”I was being serious.

But having a sense of humour is something we are all born with and we display it wherever we have influence. Every family has its clown. But there are people who have taken their sense of humor to another level to become comedians.

RK: I think for me, people who have a sense of humor it’s bigger than just being funny. You see humour in all situations. In fact, one can have a sense of humour but not be a funny guy.

BM: Technically if you are able to laugh at something, then you have a sense of humor. If you are able to pick up a joke and respond with laughter, then you have a sense of humour. Most comedians are not funny people. They don’t have a sense of humour. And in their ordinary conversation they struggle to be funny.

RK: I know two Kenyans who are very quiet people in their ordinary lives. until you see them step on stage, you can never know that they are that funny.

BM: True. For them that is a trade. They put in the time to research their jokes but a humorous person is always funny. It comes naturally without them even thinking about it.

RK: Some of them like you Mulondo, I just have to look at you and I know what is going through your mind. You laugh before you even say anything.

BM: For such people so much is going on in their heads. They connect things so fast. They are able to pick up things whenever.

Comrade Otoa: Brian, the conversations you always have with your mentor people, how do you pull that off?

Manuela Mulondo (MM): Good evening Gentlemen. You guys are all very funny!

RK: One question for you Manuela, is it true you gave Brian a hard time?

MM: Wama Robert, that should be the right process. Why should it be easy? Today, Brian says he doubts any man can get me not after all that he went through.

RK: But tell me, you say Brian has a powerful story, is there stuff Brian has not told us that you would like to share with us?

MM: He really found a way of not telling it. One of the things that attracted me to Brian, he was a street vendor for chapatti.

RK: No way.

MM: Yes. You know those small boys asking you to buy chapatti. Brian was those boys supporting his single mother. When he doesn’t share that story, I remind him that the world needs to know. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. No situation remains the same.

The inside joke remains that the chapatti street vendor met with the juice vendor myself and we came together. The chapatti one needed juice and the juice one needed chapatti so we gelled.

Comrade Otoa: Robert, I warned you about these two.

BM: That’s called collaboration. Collaboration builds community and harmonious living.

RK: On a serious note Brian, that story is a common story of children raised by single mothers. I used to sell bread in our neighborhood when I was a young boy. How did that shape your outlook?

BM: I did chapatis. I also set out two popcorn machines. One in Wandegeya and then in Namulanda by a makeshift cinema hall. Everyone who entered the cinema bought popcorn. It helped me not to disrespect any opportunity that comes my way. I always tell young people, you can never disrespect any opportunity because you can never know where it takes you. You don’t know who will come to seek you out. You don’t know who will seek you out and take you to the next level.

MM: You must see this in its entirety. Brian would have to wake up at 4 am to make the dough. Then he would go to Yellow and after that run to Namulanda to work on his popcorn machine and return home every day. All his life, Brian has woken up early.

BM: I have been a yiyist all my life.

MM: I have never known Brian to undermine a job. Never ever.

RK: Brian and Manuela, the reason that I keep doing this every evening is that just when I think I have heard the most humbling experience, every single day, someone pops up with another one.

To you Brian, I have the greatest respect for you man. And I am actually glad that I reached out to you to do this session. Officially, I am going to ask Alan Kasujja to baptise you as Uganda’s yiyist.

BM: You know Robert, I was also a DJ on Niginas, those village SACCOS for women at the time. I was a DJ while at university. One time I had to go to Mityana for an event and I had class the following morning. I went to class at 7 am having left Mityana in the wee hours of the morning. Those things shaped my attitude towards work. The pursuit of greatness. Because each one of us has the ability to be great wherever we are. Every time I see potential, I go and seek it out. One of the shows I run is called the Timeline. And through that we have given young people an opportunity to go into mainstream TV. People like David Ogutu, Ritah Kanya  and others. You need to help young people the same way other people gave you those opportunities.

RK: What final message do you leave with us in a minute?

BM: Thank you again for your kind words and hosting us, Robert. My wife and I have a show called “Ride with the Mulondos’, which was born out of conversations we usually have while driving. We decided to share it with the world because we believe collaboration with the world will get us out there. I encourage us that whatever trade you’re in, please take time to learn the business of your industry. And you might be good technically but if you don’t  understand the business of that craft you are doing, when that job ends, you’re going to struggle getting into the world. For us yiyist, unlike the technical people, we have understood the business; how it works, who to talk to.

There was a time I worked with Kwese TV, and I was the head of programmes, head of content acquisition and during my time with kwese, I bought property for the station. I wrote the entire programme schedule, I learnt how the business works. And every day when finance shows you the numbers, you learn how the business of broadcasting works and how you can start making money. Actually, I called Aggie Konde who used to be my boss at NTV. I called to apologise for all the moments I was an idiot because now I was on the panel. I was on the table. I was seeing these decisions every day. When someone would come asking for  a salary increase, I would tell them yesterday I was asked to fire you. The business I have learnt in the industry has enabled me to start a company that now has three properties on TV that are produced. They are the most sponsored properties on Uganda TV right now. But we have mastered the business and we are still learning. Take time and learn the business of what you are doing now because the business is different from the technical. You need money to fund your passion.

RK: Thank you Brian

BM: Thank you for the opportunity.

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