As warm and socially progressive as he is funny, rising comedian, Daliso, wowed the judges on much-loved television show, Britain’s Got Talent, in 2017. He even garnered praise from infamous critic, Simon Cowell, in the audition, going on to qualify for the coveted finals and lifting the public’s spirit: ‘Not only are you an undiscovered all-star,’ he was told, ‘but I could also see you owning your own show.’ Fast-forward to 2021 and the revered comic has fulfilled this prophecy and more. His current stand-up, Apocalypse Not Now, explicitly transcends lockdown and he’s writing season 3 of Citizen of Nowhere for BBC Radio 4 which he created. It has been nominated for a Rose d’Or. He has also appeared on BBC 2’s QI and The Apprentice: You’re Fired!
Daliso has a rich multicultural background which vibrantly informs his work. Zambian-born, the comedian spent time in multiple African countries before his parents settled in Malawi; the setting for many a unique anecdote. His bold observational comedy emphasises the cosmopolitanism of modern UK, even if the nation itself does not always acknowledge it. “My name is already abbreviated,” he told us. “It originally had a ‘T’ in it, but people have found a way to butcher it! Meanwhile, back in Malawi, it’s the easiest to pronounce!” Another country of influence on the young Daliso was Bangladesh. His father worked for the High Commission for Refugees with the UN and long holidays were spent there as a child. “A few odd yet definitive features made an impression on me, such as the cycle-rickshaws and humid heat. I didn’t know heat could be like that…in Africa, it’s dry weather – you can escape by hiding under a tree. In South Asia – you can’t run! However, what was refreshing was seeing how very different society could be. It was fascinating. The Bangladeshi people found me intriguing too – they were not used to seeing black people. I had folk ask to touch my hair. But I enjoyed the mutual curiosity! I was a pop star: young & cute!”
For Daliso then life is about embracing over fearing chaos to cathartically confront what’s converging instead of nonsensically turning away. This relevant sensitivity is what makes his work smart yet so uplifting. “I often think it’s better to understand someone through who they choose to identify with over the groups that they’re born into. People are so many things – I know I am. That’s why I love comedy. It’s one of few professions where it’s just about you; your personality. You’ve just got to be funny and nothing else matters. Much of my stand-up deconstructs the idea of nationality and identity. You should be proud of where you’re from, but it can also be used as a cage. Some do not like cultural appropriation, for example, but I’m not bothered! Ideas should be shared.” Indeed, diversity is inherent. As well as being a comedian, Daliso is a writer, having penned his first novel during lockdown. He is partial to the fantastical world of Sci-fi: “The genre is typically White, so again, it’s great to be able to break-through with a new perspective. I love fictional escapism like wizards juggling fire etc. One of my favourite authors is Terry Pratchett.”
Finally, Daliso at once highlighted the directly therapeutic draw of stand-up: “I can articulate for people what they’ve been thinking and have not been able to say – I’m encouraged to be outspoken e.g. I’m in the process of writing on the irritating Laurence Fox, who’s a softcore Katie Hopkins: not even the best of the right-wing! Conversely, my brother, who is a doctor, must be very professional and cannot express strong opinions e.g., calling out racism at work. Me: I’ve got the big microphone so it’s my job! I can help exorcise those angry thoughts.” There’s a reason then that Daliso has done so well. His material not only cheers you in the moment, but consciously acts as a social salve for now’s too often sombre, readily divisive landscape. Through his intuitive exploration of the psycho-political, he shows how comedy can immediately reform the spirit. Make sure you keep updated! Happiness will ensue.
Tell us about your current stand-up; Apocalypse Not Now. What can we expect?
Generally, it deals with big change. I started writing it at the beginning of the pandemic. I talk about: how lonely it is to be living by yourself; paranoia about the end of the world etc. But it also becomes about any big metaphorical apocalypse and not just the zombie type…e.g. How do you deal with divorce? How you can laugh it off and cope with any number of catastrophes that are likely to happen in human life.
What are some highlight moments of the show?
I talk about the #Black Lives Matter movement, and how little has actually changed despite everyone being caught up in it at the time. Including myself! A year on, and people are blaming black footballers while the government is AWOL. I make fun of idealism, but point out its ripple-effect as valuable too e.g., protest marches demonstrating to people an alternative progressive vision. Children can see that and know it can be different in the future. In terms of lockdown, I talk about how secrecy is not your ally. You need to let people in. I explore the bizarreness of loneliness.
And how did you survive lockdown?
By doing what felt good – as opposed to what I was meant to be doing e.g. I attempted to read the list of greatest books but soon went all on in comfort food! I watched silly fun things like sitcoms and read books that were entertaining. When life is hard, you don’t have time for depression! Look at Bollywood! There are very few tragic, depressing stories. The people might be facing adversity but there’s dancing, music and laughter. When it’s tough, you don’t want that heavy existential tone. Another action that helped me through was ringing everybody. You didn’t have time to be cut off – just to react with what was true.
Your humour is quotidian and optimistic – tell us more?
Well, that’s where growing up in Malawi really helped. As much as I say I’m a Citizen of Nowhere, my roots in the country are deep. It’s the third poorest country in Africa. Diseases such as HIV are rife and there are so many problems. It’s really not in the nature of Malawians to complain. You develop a weird kind of positivity. My dad himself was actually a refugee and my mum is a doctor, having worked in some trying places. That dark humour trickles into my comedy – I’d rather laugh about it than wallow.
A sense of community and emotional release has been huge in your attraction to Comedy. What else grabs you about it?
Just that it’s my calling. When I did my first stand-up, I felt immediately that it was right. Here was a profession that combined writing, humour and performance.
It was also widely inclusive. I’ve always loved funny books: Roald Dahl; Oscar Wilde. I was drawn to witty material. Later, I found that making a crowd laugh interactively was the best.
What have been some highlight moments in your career?
Definitely, Britain’s Got Talent. It validated what I’d been doing for some time. Also, performing across the world, from Edinburgh to Singapore and Cape Town, and especially in Malawi for the first time. It was so great as no stand-up exists there. It might be viewed on phones or televisions but never in the country and covering local problems. I could represent them through this enjoyable form. In terms of life, moving to the UK has been great – it’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in one country!
You seem very instinctive; is that your craft with comedy?
I’m very mathematical about it actually. I’ll do lots of jokes on different themes and intensively try them out at comedy clubs! I re-write if jokes don’t get big laughs. I hone my work as if writing a thesis, never giving up on the potential.
Finally, what is your advice to other budding comedians?
Write a LOT – it’s a muscle to develop and good to do before anyone knows who you are. I write a lot for the news quiz even now, for example. Get your material out there. You could come up with every excuse in the book not to do it, but just find a way. If you’re apprehensive because you think you need a car to get around – take the bus! Then you can make enough to buy your car and do more gigs better.