Moses Kiboneka on Building a Brand in Comedy

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to Moses Kiboneka ( MO) on Building a Brand in Comedy

RK: Uncle Mo, you are very much welcome to today’s #360Mentor

MO: I am very happy to be here.

RK: What is it about you and gnuts?

MO: There is a certain vibe around it. It’s a perfect snack around the garage in the morning, or anytime. I love them roasted.

RK: For me, I prefer the boiled ones in their pods. When people are in jam quarrelling, I am enjoying my snack.

Comrade Otoa: What is it about gnuts you guys?

MO: Otoa, you see gnuts are not like meat that you have a medium roast or that kind of stuff.

Comrade Otoa: I am done with you.

RK: You guys, let’s get serious. By the way, Mo, are you married?

MO: Not yet.

RK: Now I know why.

MO: Abraham Lincoln once said ‘if you are given six hours to cut a tree, spend four hours sharpening the axe…’

RK: Hahahaha so you’re now sharpening? Can we start the conversation?

I must ask you, do you have real names?

MO: Yes. My name is Moses Kiboneka.

RK: Why did I call you Michael?

MO: I was going to have a problem with it until I realised I am still Kiboneka

RK: At least now we know.

MO: The other names are all from friends but that is my name.

RK: Then let me ask you the question I ask everybody, were you born chewing gnuts?

MO: I wasn’t born with teeth?

RK: When and where?

MO: So long ago, I don’t even remember.

RK: But you were not there. Mo, we are alert.

MO: Okay, but I was born on 20th September 1986.

RK: You’re one of those babies, okay!

MO: Yes. I was born in Kireka to Moses and Maureen Sselwanga. And I grew up (and still work) in Kireka.

RK: So are you going to marry from Kireka?

MO: There’s a saying in Luganda that ‘a cow does not eat grass around the tree on which it’s been tied’.

RK: Ooooh. Okay. Unusually under the tree, there isn’t much grass. So the women in Kireka are not going to be amused tonight. And they are reading.

MO: They already know.

RK: Tell me, growing up, how many were you at home?

MO: I don’t know how someone would look at this but we are six. The first and last born are girls. In the middle are four boys. I am the last boy.

RK: Is everyone else like you?

MO: Worse. They just fear cameras.

RK: That must have been one hell of a riotous home, wasn’t it?

MO: I tell you, when we go home for Christmas, we can’t sit up. My brothers are just always saying random things. And by the time I leave my head is hurting, my tummy, my knees. I leave feeling like a 90-year-old.

RK: All of you guys are basically mad, right?

MO: They are. I’m kawa.

RK: I know why you are saying that because they are normal and you are not.

MO: No.

RK: Growing up, you said you had a lively home, what are the things that happened at home that you think have influenced your current persona and who you have become?  

MO: Growing up I was a quiet child.

RK: No. No. No. Look Mo, please listen to me, this is serious.

MO: And I am very serious

RK: Okay

MO: And I think the things that have turned me into the person I am today.  Growing up, there were already four people ahead of me. They were filling the house. So all I was doing was listening to them and seeing what they do, enjoying things they do and copying the things they do. A lot of the things I am, are a collection of all my siblings.

RK: So, you’re sponging all the negative aspects?

MO: That’s funny. Surprisingly, you will find people who will tell you I was very quiet. Seeing that they were filling up the space, I was the quiet one. I would only come alive on stage. Through school, I started doing MDD. 

RK: Where was school for you?

MO: I went to Budo junior.

RK: Kabinja?

MO: Yes.

RK: No wonder. No wonder. No wonder.

MO: Hahaha.

RK: Anha

MO: Then I went to King’s College Budo. When it came to University.

RK: First, wait, in that journey from Kabinja to King’s College, was there any indication of what you became both the academic and the creative side?

MO: My performance in class showed my academic journey. I went to engineering school because of grades.

RK: So you were always good at mathematics and stuff like that?

MO: I enjoy math and physics. On the creative side, I think I did my first creative piece when I was in preschool. I know it sounds weird but yeah, it’s the truth. I was in top class. We were doing a presentation and I asked the teacher to change a certain part in the play that I preferred to come on stage.

RK: You! You already knew how you wanted to come on stage at the age of five?

MO: She altered it and after the event, she told my mum I had made the play.

For a very long time, my mum always thought I was going to be an art guy. That’s the time I probably noticed I had the creative side.

RK: Then you went to primary school, did you participate in any of that stuff?

MO: Full blast. You that stuff we were doing; folk songs, I don’t remember most of those things. I was a bad guy. It was mainly dance and music.

RK: And then you aced the grades at King’s College? What happened thereafter?

MO: I was done with acting and art. I wanted to follow what my grades were saying. I really wanted to study government sponsorship. I wanted it so bad. When the results came out, the course I had given the 6th choice is the one they had given me.

RK: Which one was that?

MO: Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Econ and Statistics.

RK: Okay. Sounds good to me.

MO: Yeah. But I wanted the top two. Telecommunication and Mechanical Engineering. And Actuarial Science was my number three. So I told my dad that I really wanted to be an engineer, and he gave me the green card to go and apply for the course at Kyambogo on private.

The reason I didn’t apply to Makerere I knew at the back of my mind that I needed that money. There has to be a way to get that money.

RK: Wait a minute. You man, you did what?

MO: I needed that ka-money living out allowance, faculty allowance, research

RK: What does that have to do with anything?

MO: Man, there’s a way you just need some money. And I was not the son that wanted to be waking up everyday asking my father for money. I think I stopped asking for money in the first year. It put me in a certain place.

RK: So at this point, you were still at Makerere?

MO: I confirmed that I was reporting for the course. Then I went to Kyambogo and also confirmed the course. Like I said earlier, I enjoy maths and economics. It was an easy course to take on with the course I was doing at Kyambogo.

RK: You did two courses concurrently?

MO: Yes. The math I was doing at Makerere is the same as the one I was doing at Kyambogo.

RK: No. uhmmm. Tombuzabuza. You did two degrees concurrently?

MO: Yes.

RK: Gwe oli muyaye!

MO: It’s not that I was clever. But the living allowance. That ka-money and the meal card.

RK:  Wabula you started being a yiyist early. Explain to me, how was it balancing two courses at the same time?

MO: I have a friend, Elijah Njawuzi. I would sleep at his hostel and wake up early and go to Makerere, study and after lunch, I would pass by my big brother’s garage. He was my pocket money plan.

RK: I see. Just to greet him?

MO: Yes. But being my father’s son, there was no free money from him. You had to do something to get the money. So I would pass by, do a few things and go to Kyambogo.

RK: Where was the garage?

MO: 7th Street industrial area. Then from there, I would run to Kyambogo for my classes from 5 pm to 9 pm.

RK: Did your dad know you were doing two courses?

MO: I told him at the end of the first year.

RK: What did he think?

MO: My dad, anything that makes money, he’s happy. I told him I did it for the money.

RK: The fruit doesn’t fall very far from the tree. But I have to ask you this, did you have a girlfriend at each place? Tell the truth.

MO: I did not. Funny thing, my girlfriend wasn’t at any of the campuses.

RK: Clever man!

MO: You know, Robert, I was suffering. My living out allowance was paid very late. I would go to Makerere, study then walk to kill some time before jumping into a matatu to Kymabogo if I were to sleep in Kireka. Then I would walk from Kyambogo to where I was staying. If I had my girlfriend around, I would be doing a bad service to myself, they can’t find me walking on the road.

RK: Wow! So for you, there wasn’t time for those things?

MO: She was there but at a different campus.

RK: You had some space to be yourself. So you finished the two degrees, was it at the same time?

MO: No. I finished Makerere first. It was three years. And then Kyambogo, it was four years.

RK: When was this?

MO: 2013.

RK: What then did you go to do?

MO: Being that I had already got myself into passing by my brother’s place, I got swallowed up in his workplace. When I finished Makerere, I would go work to the garage and then go to Kyambogo in the evening.

RK: What skills did you pick and when did you break out on your own?

MO: First of all, I didn’t get to break out on my own. I am still working with the same garage. The only difference is that then I was pushing around papers, and now I am a Director. I didn’t break out, I broke in.

Majorly, I picked up people skills. I learnt how to work with people who come from different walks of life. You see, garage work is supported by people who didn’t study anything about the stuff. And then you have clients who know nothing about cars but can afford cars. It is important to have the language that is going to intersect.

RK: And then there are those women who make chai and walk around the garage all the time.

MO: There is that. I learnt how to associate with any person. From the cool people that own the cars to the people who bring us katogo. I have been around that environment for about 10 years now. Everything I know about work, everything I know about business, I have learnt at the garage. My brother Sselwanga Lwanga Isaac doesn’t work at the garage any more. In fact it’s his director slot that I bought out to join the outfit.

RK: How is that going and how is it working for you?

MO: 10 years and I am still here. ‘You know they say if it’s not broken………….

RK: Don’t fix it.

MO: Yeah. Never touch a winning team. There are a few draws but the winning rate is not bad.

RK: We are not complaining really.

MO: We can keep surviving here for a long time.

RK: Let’s go to Uncle Mo. We’ve been dealing with Moses Kiboneka this while. When does Uncle Mo come to life? You know the first time I saw you, I didn’t even think you had been to school.

MO: Last year during COVID, the president stopped cars from moving and I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was a year of surprises.

RK: What surprised you?

MO: First forget about me, people were dying of the flu. I am far on the list. When they said we were not going to be moving, that was fine until it stretched on for 90 days. Then they opened the garages but the cars were not moving. There was no business. We would come to the garage, talk to each other and then walk back home. This happened for a very long time. Even when cars were allowed, people opted not to drive. Spending on a car was a proper luxury. I didn’t think that such a time would ever happen in my life. Last year I went for eight months without an income.

RK: So how were you meeting your obligation?

MO: It was crazy. That’s why I will never leave Kampala. There is a way one can always thrive.

RK: You are what Alan Kasujja calls a Yiyist. And then Uncle Mo kicks in…

MO: There’s a friend I go to church with

RK: Did you say church? You?

MO: Yes. I can’t be so full of myself. I believe in a divine power.

RK: God is powerful!

MO: Deo Sekiranda and another friend called Diana who reminded me of the recaps that I used to do about shows. I would attend shows and write reviews about them.

RK: Where was that?

MO: I did it for four years before COVID. The reason I started writing about them is that people would pay so much money like 100,000 and someone would do something on stage and in my mind I would wonder why they did such a thing. So I started having a problem that the people on stage would forget how much we had paid.

So I started writing about those things. I also wrote about the good things. In the conversation we had in lockdown last year, she told me she used to like those write-ups. I wish we could have them as videos. It was also my wish but I had never had anyone to shoot the videos. She challenged me to write her one which, if impressed, she would come and shoot.

I started reaching out to people who had asked me to write something in comedy. Around the time, the trending story was Will Smith and Jada Pinket

RK: The entanglement?

MO: That one. So I reached out to a friend to bounce the ideas on. I sent the story to a friend called Damalie to help me write a script. I shared it with Diana. Diana only asked one question; when can we shoot?

I didn’t have an idea. They did everything I just did in the shoot. Then when everything was done, I asked which name I could use. Of course, I wanted to use cool names.

RK: Give us an example of one of them.

MO: Jet Lee.

RK: What?

MO: Yeah, anything that shows you’re bad. A bad guy.

RK: You man.

MO: I remember my friends who watched the show said we have always been calling you Uncle Mo, you can as well be called Uncle Mo. So I put up the first video under the name Uncle Mo. And we are here 37 videos later.

RK: What inspired you?

MO: I used to watch SNL.

RK: What’s that?

MO: Saturday Night Live. I used to enjoy John Lennon and all those guys and the way they used to structure that show. It made me want to have a show like that. One day a friend called Mugarura Peter told me he could get me into NTV. So I wrote down something that we were to pitch to Moses Serugo.

RK: I know Moses Serugo.

MO: That time KCCA wanted to bring cable cars so I wrote a script of how that could ever play out in case it ever happened. It’s the one I shared with Serugo. When he saw it, he said he was going to make sure I got a show on NTV.

I waited only to learn that so many people left NTV at the same time. About seven years later when COVID-19 happened I reached out to Serugo, I told him I was going to open a YouTube channel and he said I believed in you seven years ago, and I still believe in you today. Just do it. I will push it as much as I can. He pushed until video 10.

RK: By then you had traction

MO: A bit. It’s getting there. He told me, the content was at a level where it would drive itself.

RK: What are you doing with these videos? What’s your philosophy?

MO: The point has been changing over time. In the beginning, I was just fighting depression.

RK: Wait, you Uncle Mo and depression in the same sentence?

MO: The problem with people who have creative minds is that they over-create things in their minds beyond their creative work.

RK: What does that even mean?

MO: They start creating things that they shouldn’t. I was suffering from myself. I was suffering from idleness.

RK: You need prayers. How is this suffering from yourself manifesting?

MO: I am actually glad that I started doing this because I needed to put my mind on something. I had to do something. And on YouTube, when you get like 200 subscribers, you have to care. Then they become 1000 and you realise it’s no longer about you. I would like to think I am still refining.

RK: Why did you settle for a video?

Mo: There was no other way. People were home and were online. People were on TikTok and all these platforms. Everything I am doing right now is a combination of many other people’s ideas. It was not my idea to make videos. It was not my idea to shoot at the garage.

RK: What is it about you that you think got people to be invested in you in the manner you are describing?

MO: Maybe because I can.

RK: Really just that? Do you know how many people can?

MO: I don’t know. All I saw was that people would come and say Mo you can. I am a product of people’s ideas. The only difference is that I put them to work.

RK: So you are someone who really executes, you are not just a talker?

MO: I love to execute.

RK: How many subscribers do you have now?

MO: Before I even give you the numbers, let me first tell you this. When I started, my prayer was to have at least 1000 subscribers by the end of the year. I got them in about 4 months. Then I aimed for 10,000 by the end of the year. My YouTube channel year, would end in July. But I made 10,000 in February or March. Like I said everything that has been around my mind has kept changing. Every day is new, I keep re-strategizing. I am now about 1000 away from 20,000.

RK: To get to where you are now, how much work has gone into it?

MO: For me, it’s all about what is happening in the press. The guys who inspired me to do my work are people who were using the press to run their gigs. The guys here were doing it in Luganda so there was still space to do it in English. For me, I make my content from what is making news. Does it speak to me creatively? And what are the facts? I need to be correct. I bounce these ideas off so many people to see whether the facts are correct. Once I’m done with that I drop the serious stuff and keep the stupid stuff.

RK: Why the stupid parts?

MO: To make the content I need. The thing about content creation in my line is that I can’t come to read news. That is already on TV and people have watched it already. So when people come to youtube I have to make sure they have come for entertainment. I make the news again but in a way that people will want to stay and watch.

RK: What’s the future of Uncle Mo?

MO: I wish to have a live show.

RK: Like mine?

MO: No, a different one.

RK: What are you saying about my show?

MO: A different one where people can be seen. Where people clap, shout or even throw bottles. Here people can’t throw bottles.

RK: No. No. You can’t do that.

MO: You know comedy is funny. During this time, people were falling sick so doctors were needed. Engineers were needed for road construction. But there was nowhere they said, we need comedians. We are the only part where we invited ourselves. It’s a very big responsibility to say the one who makes people laugh. Who told you? It’s kwetumikiriza. This kind of trade where there’s free entry means that it requires you to think deeply about your craft.

RK: But this character in the garage, why that context? Why not a supermarket?

MO: Going back to something I said earlier, it wasn’t even my idea. I wanted to do the daily show, I had even set up my desk. Was ready with my suites.

RK: You in a suit? I saw that photo and I was blown away.

MO: Yooo. I was also shocked.

Anyway, the place where I wanted to do the show was for a friend Jo. When I went there he told me to go and do it at the garage. It was supposed to be a joke but it turned out different.

RK: That’s the problem with you. When something is supposed to be a joke, you don’t laugh, when something is serious, you turn it into a joke.

MO: That’s it. At that moment it hit me that I don’t have to wear a suit, I could as well wear my overall. I came to the garage, there were few and nothing was happening. There were no customers and nothing was happening. I figured out where I was going to shoot from and started.

RK: Do you have a producer or you were just using the phone?

MO: One thing I know is that if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. I had a startup but my videographer made sure that we got the best equipment. The way it is supposed to be. I got myself to do that from the first day I did content creation. I don’t know any other way.

RK: What’s your aspiration in the content creation space?

MO: Influence.

RK: What does that mean?

MO: I believe that everything we touch should be for other people. We are only as good as other people’s lives we have scratched. We should touch other people’s lives. I hope to be that person. The money is the token for getting it right.

RK: Impact is the word they use now.

MO: Yeah. That.

RK:  How have you been able to capture that element in the works you do?

MO: I always want to keep topics that are relevant first to me and then to the people around me. I will do a video but it will be something you probably would have said if you had the channel. Or a life you should live or information you should have. That’s my driving factor.

RK: Now that you have the public recognition, how are you coping with that in your private life? How is it affecting the choices you make?

MO: Majorly, my craft is online. The first thing it has affected is my social media life. There are things I could say before that I cannot. Before I would have a few followers who I would apologise to in case I offended them. Now I cannot.

When the number crosses 1000, you start caring a bit. The important thing now is to be responsible with what I do because my trade is online. The biggest effect is online. The picture is still manageable right now.

RK: Is it getting any money into your pocket?

MO: It is starting to reward on my end. My channel got monetised by Google. It was very encouraging. I am doing some brand work for some brands.

RK: What’s happened to the garage now; has business picked up?

MO: Yes. I have a number of clients here on Twitter. I have made so many friends on social media. My work is about explaining to my clients what’s going on as much as possible.

RK: How do you balance the two?

MO: Creativity comes at weird times. You can’t say “Now let me write.” It comes at weird times. I carry on my day naturally. The only difference is that if something comes to mind I have a voice recorder where I record whatever idea comes to mind. I write at night. When I have to shoot, I do it between 7 and 9 am. Then I get on with my garage work.

RK: Then plans for the other person?

MO: It’s a matter of time.

Comrade Otoa: doing two degrees at the same time, how were you able to pull it off? How have you been able to stay the course having started way back?

MO: If I figure out the product, I don’t care how many times I am going to fall. If I have my passions somewhere, I make a decision to stick. If I say I am interested in something, I am likely not going to change my mind about it.

I graduated from both universities but what was more important to me was the live-out allowance. It was the motivation. I just fear brokenness.

RK: Which is why you are both an engineer and a comedian.

MO: Right. But in addition to Otoa’s question, I  believe in people. A friend of mine, Mike, told me there are three stages to being creative. The first is imitation, the second one is integration. And the third is innovation.

Find someone who looks like what you want to become. Then integrate that into who you are and after that innovate around yourself. That really guided me.

Samuel Okwalinga: How do you sieve what you put out?

MO: One thing about content creation, we are not like scientists where you have to test something in the lab. For us, we take it to people first. We shoot before we aim. It’s a bad thing to do but the only way to do it. Give it to the people around you. If they can give that same amount of work to other people without you coercing them, that’s another sign. You have to start with the people around you. That way you are bettering your craft.

Some people worry about public opinion. The truth is the haters are right.

RK: Why are they right?

MO: They are the audience. If they don’t want something, they don’t want it. The good thing about haters is that they even tell you what you are doing wrong.

Noah Kiwanuka: What inspires you to do satire that is not vulgar or perverse which has been a common thing here?

MO: My mum is watching. She is my number one fan, why should I spoil a good show?

RK: Listen Mo, your mum will always watch whether it makes sense or not.

MO: I  grew up in a home where a crime was committed once. Our parents would punish us to the point that no one would ever do that again. I grew up being put in line and I appreciate that. I want people to enjoy my content.

Lydia: How does he create content without stepping on landmines?

MO: That’s the part where I chose to do this craft. I am a believer. I believe that God made me creative enough in a way that even if I step on a landmine, they will let me pass.

RK: It won’t blow up.

MO: Comedy gives you latitude to say anything. You can joke about the president or Robert Kabushenga but how you make it, is what matters. At the end of the day, you both are laughing. The other way is easy. Anyone can abuse anyone.

RK: Being insolent is so easy. It doesn’t require thinking.

MO: It doesn’t even require God.

RK: Uncle Mo, thank you very much. I am truly grateful for the time you set aside to share your story

MO: Thank you, Robert, I have been very honoured to be here.

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