Herbert Mendo Ssegujja is a local comedian who has made a name by perfectly mimicking President Yoweri Museveni. Last Friday the comedian came to His Excellencyâ€™s attention when he sent the President into prolonged bouts of fitful laughter, at the send-off ceremony of outgoing presidential private
JOSEPH SSEMUTOOKE caught up with the comedian to talk about the meeting and his mimicry of the President.
You were killing the President with laughter last week. Did you notice it while you performed?
Ha ha ha, yeah, I did. I could not believe it. I was amused and I almost burst out laughing myself. He was laughing so hard and wiping his tears all the time I was on stage. I had to control myself to avoid laughing.
What stunts exactly were you pulling that amused him so?
Basically, I was doing my usual thing of mimicking him. I performed for about 10 minutes.
Tell us some of it.
Okay, when I got on stage, I got the microphone and began the way he normally begins his speeches. I kept a brief silence for some seconds, closed my eyes and raised my right hand while drawing back my head like I was thinking of how to start. My first words were: â€œWhen Amelia told me she wants to serve Mawokota, I asked â€˜Olina stamina?â€™ and she said â€˜Bwekiri, kasita oseesaâ€™ loosely translated as â€˜Do you have what it takes?â€™ and she responded: â€œRight, with your supportâ€.
And after the performance you got to shake his hand, what did he tell you?
We did not talk. He could not even talk. He was just looking at me and laughing. You know where you are laughing so hard that you cannot collect yourself to speak, that is the state he was in.
You did not have any fear about making fun of the President in his presence?
I think my fear was only before I went on stage. You know, honestly, the President has an intimidating presence. I was wondering how I was going to do it. I wanted to do it and I had vowed that I would do it, but I had this fear that maybe I would reach the stage and the words disappear, or I fail to pull off the actions.
So how did you pull yourself together to pull it off?
Before I took to the stage, they told the President that next was a special guest for him. When I began walking on to the stage, all these government officials shouted and screamed for me. The President himself was apparently already enjoying it before I said anythingâ€¦that is what gave me confidence.
Didnâ€™t you think he would maybe take it in bad faith?
I have never thought he can have problems with my mimicking him. I do not abuse his character, I do not do anything that would offend him. I respect him as a person and I also respect his office. That is why you cannot see me portraying him in a negative way, say as a vulgar person, or a thief, or a conman.
Why do you imitate Museveni, of all people?
I think it is because I like him, because I admire him so muchâ€¦I could say he is my role model. To imitate someone very well, you have to like that person, be like their disciple, so that you can strive to pull out every bit of their character with inner feelings.
When did you start imitating him?
The first time was in Alex Mukuluâ€™s play Akattambwa, which was about 2005. The drama club of our church, Omega Healing Centre â€“Namasuba, was acting the play. Mukuluâ€™s plays contained a lot of Ugandaâ€™s history and politics, and someone was needed to act Museveni. Mukulu asked all of us to attempt the role and my act impressed him, so I took it up.
And how did you get into this thing of mimicking him in stand-up comedy?
After that role in Akattambwa, Alex Mukulu told me that he thought I was actually more of a comedian than a mainstream actor. Months later I joined the then infant Theatre Factory, acting just Herbert Ssegujja. However, after a while I remembered my Museveni role in Akattambwa and realised people would love seeing someone mimick the President. I immediately set out to develop skits in which I mimicked Museveni.
And how do you manage to mimick him to such perfection? What is your trick?
I think it is more of a gift from God â€“sometimes I look at myself on TV and wonder how I managed to pull it off. But also, mimicry is primarily about observing a character and trying your level best to behave as though you were that character. So I do a lot of research on the President. I have a lot of his speeches in audio and video. I even have written data like a collection of his proverbs. I rehearse privately at home.
Can you mimick anyone else apart from the President?
Yeah. I think I am an all-round comedian and actor, so Museveni is just my best known act. Otherwise I have mimicked Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, Drake Ssekeba (the WBS TV presenter), and American president Barack Obama, among others. I started off mimicking the late John Ssalongo who used to read Luganda radio announcements.
It seems you have a long history of mimicking people!
Quite. I began with mimicking John Ssalongo when I was about 11 years and in P.6. You see, I grew up with my grandmother who used to listen to the announcements everyday. Later when I went to secondary school, I began playing in the school dramas roles which required special mimcry. When I became a member of Omega Healing Centre church, I joined the drama club and began to dramatise different things at church functions.
Was your dream always to be a comedian?
No. I wanted to be a journalist. I was a fluent speaker and whenever something happened, I would do dramatic reports of what I had seen and heard before my classmates and friends.
But your plans now must all be about comedy, right?
Yeah, something like that. My long time plan is to become an international comedian and actor. This month I am beginning my final year for a degree in drama at Makerere University. Additionally, I can say my medium-term plan is to be appointed the official â€œpresidential reliever of stressâ€.
What are the gains you have reaped from it so far?
Financially, I am not badly off. Comedy earns me a good chunk of my livelihood. However, even more important than the money, is that through comedy I have built a relationship with various people. Now I have even met the President, in addition to other people I have come to know â€“government officials, politicians, top businessmen, fellow actors, musicians, etc.
So is comedy your sole breadwinner?
Actually not. I am a qualified teacher at Standard High School Zzana, and comedy is like my second job. I have a B.A. Education from Kyambogo University.
A comedian for a teacher! Your classes must be just theatre.
Naturally, some jokes find their way into my lessons, and the students love me for them. But it does not mean there is no seriousness, after the jokes the students have to study and I am serious at that. I teach history both in Oâ€™level and Aâ€™level.
How did you end up at Amelia Kyambaddeâ€™s farewell party?
It was because of musician Dr. Hilderman. He is the one who asked me to perform at his Amelia album launch at Kati Kati, to talk like Museveni to his guest of honour Amelia Kyambadde. Dr. Hilderman also took me to the other editions of his album launch in Mawokota and at Ssese Gateway Beach in Entebbe. Afterwards he told me Mrs. Kyambadde had liked my performances and before I knew it, last week, there I was on the line-up of artistes to perform at her farewell party.
Now donâ€™t you think you are going to get a lot of people hiring you to act at their functions?
Actually, I have already been performing at lots and lots of functions. Weddings, corporate events, album launches, all sorts of parties and events. In fact I have even been used for campaigns â€“during my time at Kyambogo University, I brought two guild candidates into office by mimicking Museveni at their campaign trails.
Finally, tell us a little about the family history of this Herbert Ssegujja.
Well. I was born 26 years ago in Boowa village, which is in Luweero district. I am the first born of four, and I was raised in Boowa by my grandmother. My father is deceased but mother is alive.
HERBERT SSEGUJJA THE ACTING PRESIDENT