Dickson Zzizinga is one of the most recognisable comedians in Uganda. Born with a naughty deadpan look, Zizinga has used comedy which relies less on words and more on the physical to thrill audiences in theatre, stand-up comedy, commercials, sitcoms and drama.
Zizinga may appear a natural but, in fact, he joined comedy by chance in 1997. At the time, he was just 22 but already working as a cab driver. The car belonged to a cousin. The cousin, whom Zzizinga describes as very cunning, introduced him to acting with legendary director Christopher Mukiibi of the then Theatricos group.
Zizinga says it was unleveled ground for a novice competing for a role among over 80 group members. So he started as an extra but soon rose to be among the top ten actors in the group. His break came with a play titled ‘Waabalabye’ to mean ‘Did you see them’ as a statement not a question. Success in this play became a turning point for him.
“I chose to drop cab driving and concentrate on acting as a passion and job,” he says.
In the same play, Zzizinga met Phillip Luswata of Theater Factory who introduced him to the comedy trade in 2003. He was one of the characters in a TV series crafted from ‘Child of a Delegate’ a book that was written by former literature lecturer at Makerere University, Mary Karooro Okurut, who is now a minister in the government.
Seven years after working with Luswata, Zzizinga and several others; including award-winning comedian Ann Kansiime, broke away. They formed Fun Factory, the comedy group that performs at National Theatre every Thursday.
Zzizinga largely performs stage comedy although once in a while, he jumps onto stand-up type. He says he prefers sketch comedy which is the Fun Factory way of involving many actors instead of just one person doing standup comedy.
Many theatre-goers would consider Zizinga an accomplished comedian. Not the man himself. At 42 years old, he still dreams of returning to school to “professionalize my acting career”. He wants to at least have a diploma or degree in his trade. In 2005 he resumed school as an adult student and completed Ordinary Level. He studied Senior Six but failed because of the trauma that befell him after his fiancée and mother of two of his children died. He has a 23-year old daughter and four other children but he has eyes set on reaping even more from the growing industry in Uganda.
As the eldest son in the family of nine and heir to his father, Zzizinga says he has responsibilities. He recalls how his father toiled to ensure the family never lacked the basics at home in Kangulumira-Kayunga district.
“Life wasn’t easy back then in the village and even when I came to Kampala, I spent the greater part of teenage life doing odd jobs along the streets,” he says.
His father was only one licensed to brew crude Waragi, a concentrated gin, in the then Mukono district. Zzizinga says he once sipped Waragi but it did no go well. To this day, he neither drinks alcohol nor smokes.
He entered teenage in the early 1980s period of then-presidents Milton Obote and Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa when now-President Yoweri Museveni was a rebel fighting the government and gun-toting soldiers roaming the streets and shooting off volleys were the norm.
“We were always excited by gun shots even when soldiers of Tito Okello turned our primary school into a military barracks,” he recalls. That was in 1986 and he was 10 years old. He would soon join his elder sister in Kampala and complete his primary education at Alpha Primary School. Then he was tossed to his auntie at De Winton Street in Kampala as he started school at Kampala Secondary School. He dropped out in Senior Four when he could no longer afford the school fees. He soon joined the work force as a shop attendant until 1992 when he joined the cab (special hire) driving.
“My cousin was already in the cab trade so he taught me how to drive and once in a while, we would share cars to earn a living,” he says. This is the same cousin who introduced him to acting and, as they say, he saw the future.