Some time earlier this year, at Wenela Bus Depot in Malawiâ€™s commercial city, Blantyre, a Lilongwe-bound bus was heaving. Passengers were trickling into the bus and, as the sun sank into the western horizon, the bus was full, with some passengers standing.
As the driver stepped on the accelerator and hooted to warn passengers the bus was about to start the long journey to the capital city, in came a short young man.
He shouted: â€œHello one and all. I am glad to be with you on this bus!â€
The distinct feature on his face were two missing upper teeth. You couldnâ€™t miss it. You could mistake his booming voice for the â€˜bus evangelistsâ€™ who are a common feature at Wenela.
â€œI am Mr Jokes. I believe laughter is the best medicine. Many people talk about my two missing teeth. They think itâ€™s a misfortune. But that distinguishes me from other men. I find no problems kissing. A French kiss is not so much of a problem to me, thanks to these missing teeth,â€ he said, sending passengers into stitches of laughter.
As the bus started off, 10 minutes later after the young man had cracked a few jokes that brought a good mood among the travellers, the comedian announced that he had DVDs of his jokes. A good number bought copies. Others got his contacts. Yet, others gave him some notes.
Fast forward to last Sunday at the Steers Gardens in Blantyre. Before a performance by the Solomonic Peacocks, Mr Jokes, real name Andrea Thonyiwa, joined two other stand-up comedians, Weles Chigwenembe and Madalitso Nyambo, who is also a poet. The three lightened the mood with their jokes as they prepare to launch their comic group, Ajomasiwe, at the end of this month.
That is Mr Jokesâ€™ rise on the Malawi entertainment scene which has also seen him do comedies for the MBC-TV series, Phwete.
Thonyiwa testifies he was born in a poor family 28 years ago. He used to live in his home village at Thekerani, Thyolo. He is the last born in a family of three: two boys and a girl.
Looking for a better life, he went on to stay with his brother at Bangwe Township in Blantyre, but life turned out to be harder for him and he had to leave his brother and stay alone. This was the time he was schooling at Misesa LEA school along the Limbe-Thyolo road.
â€œAt the time, I was doing small businesses and going to school at the same time. I was paying rent on my own and buying food. I used to sell matemba, shoes and even kaunjika,â€ he said.
It is during these hard times that he learned to laugh and make others laugh with him. He could joke on anything. Fellow vendors and customers would spend moments listening to his jokes.
Said Mr Jokes: â€œAt one point, I got me a dress which I used to wear while wooing customers to my wares. On hard business days, I would spend more time cracking jokes and, at the end of the day, I could have at least K2 000 [about $7] from it, which was not bad.â€
It is through these endeavours that in 2010, he was spotted by MBC-TV producer and presenter Steven Maseya. Maseya saw in the young man a potential actor for Phwete.
Appearing on TV put Thonyiwa on another plane and viewers started demanding his DVD, which he produced. It was a 30-minute product which sold like hot-cakes.
Demand grew and he produced a second DVD, Bachelor Palayini. The master copy was sold to Dolphin Electronics at K100 000 (about $333), followed by another DVD which he also sold to Dolphin Electronics at K250 000 (about $833).
â€œMy life has changed since then. The only thing I am craving for now is education. I know I need to get more education because with it, the future becomes more certain,â€ he said.
The comedian confesses that being a joker on the bus has helped him build his career. That has been a springboard to popularity as he sees it.
He jokes on virtually anything: politics, society and religion, among others.
Take, for instance, one joke on religion. It is a matter he has brewed, having been a member of several churches. He was born a Seventh Day Adventist adherent. Then he became a Catholic, before joining the pentecostal Agape Life Ministries. He is now a CCAP member, but before that, he used to congregate with Seventh Day Apostolic.
Goes the joke: â€œOne day, we were in a church. They told us to close our eyes and pray. After the prayer, they told us to take our hymns. They didnâ€™t tell us to open our eyes, so we sang the first hymn, Fanana ndi Yesu with our eyes closed. Then came the second hymn, Palibe Amene Angafanane Naye. We were so confused. Within moments we were singing about contradictory aspects of Christian life.â€
Life, he says, is crazy and we must poke fun at it.