Biography: Leonardo is the new Messi of Tanzanian comedy 


Although he is based in Tanzania, it's clear that Leonardo's unique bilingual abilities, sharp on-stage jokes, and engaging, quick-witted Instagram skits would easily place him among the ranks of comedians like Dave Chappelle, Brian Thompson, or the amazing Matt Riffe if he were in the United States.

Tanzanian comedy is currently experiencing a boom. The laughter industry has moved past its dark ages, with comedians now securing social media engagements especially on Instagram that even well-known music artists dream of. 

Under the Cheka Tu brand, there is at least one stand-up comedy show each month, contributing to a fertile ground for nurturing new superstar talents daily.

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Amidst these changes, Leonard Butindi, widely recognized as Laughs On Leonardo, stands at the forefront. 

Born and raised in Dar Es Salaam, this Gen Z Tanzanian comedian acts as the prefect and the leading act among the new wave of Tanzanian comedy stars.

Leonardo who is both a skit making and stand up comedian in Tanzania, as stated in this interview thst mainly explores his biography, holds a Bachelor's Degree in Water Resources and Irrigation Engineering.

Leonardo represents the primary distinction between the old, media-monopolized, and dark ages of comedy and the new, burgeoning comedy industry, where recognition predominantly hinges on social media.

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In this interview, Leonardo, Tanzania's leading comedian discusses his biography, life before fame, comedic inspirations, his debut stand-up comedy show, and everything in between.

This interview has been edited to maintain clarity and conciseness while preserving its essence: 

We know that you won the famous Cheka Tu Comedy search in 2021. So before participating in Cheka Tu Comedy search, did you compete in any other comedy competitions in Tanzania?

No, I never participated in any other comedy search, but I once took part in East Africa's Got Talent organized by Clouds Media in 2019. I went to the auditions, and I remember my judge was Meena Ally.

She laughed a lot, but I didn't qualify. Of course, I wasn't much of a pro in those days. So, that was the only audition or competition I attended before the Cheka Tu Comedy search.

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For the benefit of your fans and all the readers, what is your real name, and when did you start pursuing comedy as a career?

My real name is Leonard Butindi, but my mom usually calls me "Leonardo," so that's where I got the name from.

I started my career as a comedian in 2017 after watching Eddie Murphy's Delirious. At first, I thought it was a movie, but it turned out to be a comedy special from 1983. After watching it, I realized I wanted to do that too.

Though I decided to pursue comedy in 2017, my first time on stage was in 2019 at the Punchline Comedy Club, thanks to Evans Bukuku and Ahmed Dahar. I gave an amazing open mic performance and won a bucket of Heineken beer as a prize. 

Initially, I performed in English, but in 2021, I started doing comedy in Swahili. That's also the year I participated in and won the Cheka Tu Comedy search.

So I'm just curious, were you born and raised in Dar Es Salaam? 

I was born in Dar es Salaam at Temeke Hospital on January 25, 1998. I lived in Dar for 9 years until 2007 when my family moved to Morogoro.

So, as we speak, my family now lives in Morogoro. But as you can see, I'm back and living in Dar es Salaam.

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One of the unique things about you is that you have a solid academic background, which is rare among many Tanzanian comedians. Could you please share your educational background with us?

I have a Bachelor's degree in Water Resources and Irrigation Engineering. I completed my primary education at Kilakala in Morogoro and finished Form Four at Morogoro Secondary School. 

For my advanced education, I attended Galanosi High School in Tanga and then pursued my Bachelor's degree at the Water Institute in Dar Es Salaam.

Having a solid academic background has definitely shaped my career. I'm naturally curious and enjoy learning. 

Before writing my jokes, I usually do some research, which is evident in my comedy. My jokes often bring value and reflect the fact that I have a good educational foundation.

So let's talk about you growing up, were you always this funny and when did you realize that you have a talent for comedy? 

Growing up, I was always the wisecracker. I was one of those backbenchers who'd point out a teacher's mispronunciation, making everyone laugh.

My appearance added to the humor—I was slim with big ears—but I was also a bright student. Despite being the class clown, I earned a bit of respect.

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I’ve been the funny guy since childhood, but it wasn't until 2017 that I realized I could do stand-up comedy. This epiphany came after I watched Eddie Murphy's Delirious comedy special while waiting for my Form Six exam results.

So which comedian whether from Tanzania or abroad would you regard as your “idol”? 

The comedian who first inspired me and continues to inspire me to this day is Eddie Murphy. He began his career at a young age, facing challenges as a black comedian breaking into the industry. 

Eddie Murphy started with stand-up and later transitioned into movies, he is without a doubt my idol.

Back when you were not yet the Leonardo you are today, who was the first person to believe in and support your talent as a comedian?

Back in December 2018, during Cheka Tu's year-end comedy show, I brought my English jokes, but they didn't quite hit the mark. Instead of laughter, people were saying, "Hey, come listen to this guy." It was a tough crowd.

During that event, I connected with my friend Halleluya, who's also a comedian. He had everyone in stitches with his Swahili jokes and managed to land a performance slot that night, while I didn't.

Around 2019, about a year later, Halleluya reached out to me. He reminded me of that Cheka Tu night and suggested a venue that he thought would suit my style—Punchline at Elements Masaki.

So it's not an overstatement to say that Halleluya was the first to recognize my comedic talent. After Punchline, Evans Bukuku and Ahmed Dahar, my bosses, saw my potential and helped nurture my abilities further.

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Among all the stand-up comedy shows you've performed in, which one do you consider the most unforgettable and significant in your career?

First, the Cheka Tu Comedy Search finals in 2021. It was a defining moment for me. 

Secondly, a recent battle with Ndaro was also unforgettable. The preparation was intense, and it was more than a regular stand up comedy show. My team and I worked tirelessly to organize a professional and impressive show.

And then there was the memorable evening at Serena Hotel in 2020, where I showcased my English comedy under the  Punchline comedy club.

Apart from stand-up comedy, we know you create comedy skits that have so far propelled you to half a Million followers on Instagram. Who is your favorite comedian to collaborate with on these skits?

Honestly, I'm the kind of comedian who can adapt and collaborate with anyone, bringing out the best in each of us.

When I team up with different comedians, people often comment that our styles complement each other well. This feedback holds true no matter who I'm working with.

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I've found that I click and connect with all the comedians I collaborate with, so it's hard for me to single out just one favorite.

Unlike many years ago, comedy has been gaining prominence in recent years. Do you believe that in the coming years, the Tanzanian comedy industry will surpass the music industry in terms of development and popularity?

I believe that currently, comedy is the fastest-growing creative sector in Tanzania. Comedians are receiving more engagements on social media than most artists, and even musicians use us to promote their songs.

Honestly, we are experiencing rapid growth, although we haven't yet seen a figure like Diamond Platnumz emerge in the comedy industry. I'm confident that we'll have our own trailblazer soon, and of course I'll be the one to do it.

Let's wrap this up with your endorsements. As one of Tanzania's most endorsed comedians, could you share which brands you are currently endorsing and what criteria you consider before accepting any endorsement deal?

Currently, I am working with NMB, Faras, Magic Builders, Elef Lishe, and Lusanto PC. These are the main brands I am associated with.

Before I sign any deal, I first consider the amount they offer, because not everyone meets my financial expectations.

Additionally, I assess the value that the brand can bring to me and how it can elevate my profile. I also consider the nature of the brand's business.

Furthermore, I take into account whether the brand aligns with my personal values. There are some brands that I may not feel comfortable endorsing if they do not align with what I stand for.