Seeing opportunity in a challenge: the story of a Ghanaian comedian

As the door of the main entrance opens, a lot of people join the queue for their turn to present either their electronic or hard copy tickets. It is time for the Örebro stand up Comedy Club show and the auditorium is fully packed with the audiences patiently and anxiously waiting for the start of the program.

The audiences are trilled with laughter with the performance of both the first and the second comedians. However, these two performances are just a teaser to prepare the stage for the main comedy act. As the main and the last comedian approach the stage, the audience with a loud clap welcomes him. It is now the turn of Kodjo Akolor to fulfill his duties as the main comedian and entertain his audiences.

Currently, Kodjo Akolor is one of the most popular names in Swedish comedy and in broadcast media. Born in Stockholm – Sweden to Ghanaian parents, the 35-year-old comedian is a sensation to watch and listen both on the comedy stage and on radio. He was voted the best male radio presenter in 2014 in the Swedish Radio Awards and in 2015 he was inducted into the Stockholm Hall of Fame.

These achievements did not come on a silver platter; Akolor has overcome a lot of challenges in his childhood as an immigrant living in Sweden and he is now a living testimony and a success story as a second-generation migrant. In the 1980’s Akolor and his family were the only black Africans in the community they lived in and he grew up around other immigrant families from Iran, Chile and Portugal. In the minority communities it was easier to socially relate to each other and find an identity in a country where you are never welcomed, he says.

Outside their community, Akolor suffered rejection and racism both from teachers and students. The experiences were really tough for him and made him fight a lot at a younger age. He was offended when people called him the “N” word, but at that time most Swedes did not see anything wrong with it and his feelings was meaningless to people. Despite all the racial attacks, his mother taught him to be respectful to everyone, irrespective of who they were. He says that now things are a lot better than in his childhood.

Kodjo Akolor performing on stage in Örebro-Sweden.

Sharing a memory about his education, Akolor remembers his mother always said to him, “you have to study ten times as harder here [in Sweden] if you are going to make anything of yourself in this country, because you being black is not going to be enough.” This motivated him to work a lot harder in school but unfortunately that did not change his grades. He admits with a smile that he was not academically good until after high school.

In his early days in school, his mates teased him during break hours. There was “funny hour” session in school every Friday where students were allowed to do different performances. Akolor recalls acting some scenes from popular television series that he had watched earlier. “As a kid in school that was the only time I felt free; when I was joking. So, for me jokes became a defense mechanism. If I felt sad I joked, if I felt uncomfortable I joked”, Akolor says. At this point he realized he could do comedy but because his parents expected him to be something else, it was not something he thought he would become.

It is very common in Ghana for parents to influence their children and at times even force them to pursue their preferred profession, and in Akolor’s case it was no exception. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, a scientist or a doctor, but Akolor rebelled against it. He wanted to study economics and be able to study abroad. On the hand, his high school grades were not good enough to get him a degree in any of his father’s preferred profession.

Akolor started comedy at an amateur level in 2005. He says he was the only black guy doing stand-up comedy in Stockholm and that was a big deal for him. As a comedian he is able to joke about his past experiences, and some people can relate to it. In the beginning of his comedy career, Akolor says often pretended he was coming from Ghana and spoke with thick Ghanaian accent, and will later switch to the Swedish accent just to shock the audience. It worked, and he started to get recognized. What he loves about stand up comedy is the instantaneous response that comes from the audience, which to him is refreshing. He recalls watching Eddy Murphy, the American comedian, before he started his career.

Success in his comedy career got him his first TV job in Channel 4 in 2008 where he worked as a host of the Swedish version of the Got Talents musical show. Later he got a job in Swedish Radio, which he decided to do for just a year. But as the saying goes, time flies and now he has worked with the Swedish Radio for about 7 years.

Akolor says that now he sees himself more as Swede, but in his youthful years he considered himself more as a Ghanaian. During his visit to Ghana he realized that he knows very little about the Ghanaian culture. Besides, he did not speak any of the 250 languages and dialects spoken in Ghana, which is a huge deal for him. His parents come from different ethnic groups and speak different dialect, which made them speak only English in their home in Sweden. Despite not feeling too much of a Ghanaian, he is grateful to be part of the Ghanaian community and he maintains a good relationship with Ghanaians in Sweden, especially those in Stockholm where he lives.

The stories of Ghanaians who migrated to Sweden as adults are quite the opposite of what can be said of Akolor. They face challenges of social integration and job opportunities in their field of studies. Akolor believes that a part of his success is because he was born in Sweden and is able to fluently use the Swedish language to its full extent. Therefore he is able to use both Ghanaian and Swedish culture to his advantage.

Akolor’s story will motivate other Ghanaians living in Sweden and elsewhere. He suggests that people should not allow their parents, current political situation or even what people say to them affect their idea of what they want to be. “Swedes like it when you are interested in Sweden. A little language skills can help to break the stereotypical thoughts that some of the Swedes have, that Africans only come to rape their women and spread HIV Aids”, he advises.

In the future, he wants to continue his comedy career in the United States of America and become a huge international success as the first Swede commercial comedian.

Source: GHDiaspora

Leave a Reply