Best known by his nick name, Warri, which he took after his childhood musical group, Henok Tekle is one of the eminent comedians in Eritrea. His talents for comedy and jokes started before he even started to realize his potentials. Warri believes that he was fortunate to meet a teacher who changed many young people’s lives through art. Efrem Fiqadu, the teacher, is the person who guided and saw his talents; so Warri believes.
We talk to Warri, the stand-up comedian, writer, director and TV star.
- Thank you for your time; let’s start chatting about your inspiration to become a comedian?
Thank you for having me. I really can put a hand on what inspired me to become a comedian. I honestly think that I was just born like that. I used to be a very hyper kid and had the habit of imitating action of people. I had never realized that I was a comedian until people told me so. I was just doing my thing and living my life, and then they told me that I am a comedian.
My dad owns a music shop where I get acquainted with many artists. He is also a man who financed the works of many successful artists today. I had my first acting in a comedy when I was just 5, in a movie my dad financed, Haraday (The slaughter).
In addition, when I was enrolled as a 1st grader at Awet Elementary and Junior School grade I met Efrem Fiqadu, my teacher. He is the person who saw my potential when I couldn’t even count. He knew my potential and used to make me do stand-up comedy when I didn’t even know I was actually doing stand-up.
- How did being a former member of Warri change your life?
Warri Cultural Group was established in 2006. Before joining Warri, I used to work with other big cultural groups as well. Being in Warri has shaped each and every one of us to become better artists. In 2008, Warri had its own TV program on Eri-TV. So, that time, I was able to present my comedy if the other programs were not aired. Even during those short time performances, I was delighted to see almost 90% of the comments the audience wrote about me. That encouraged me to keep going.
I carried this inspiration to Sawa with me. I think that Sawa has influenced me greatly in my personal life as well as my career as an artist. I was selected as one of the coordinators for the cultural group that was created in Sawa. We did many entertaining works for the students. I was also fortunate to win second place for a play I wrote and directed. I had a friend who was also my number one enthusiast and confidant, Fitsum Kidane. He used to give me his unconditional support. I had a notebook full of poems I used to write, just for myself. Yes, I am also a poet, but I haven’t really got into it seriously. I remember Fitsum telling me that they were great and I should do something with them; his motivation has made me gain confidence.
- Turning comedy in to a full time job; how was it?
Returning to Asmara, I wanted to focus on my comedy. I have a dream to be one of the best comedians in the world. I first wanted to work on my pantomime comedy, a speechless kind of comedy. I think that is not an easy one to do since everything depends on your action, and you have to tell a story. However, it is the best kind of comedy as you get to tell the story in a language people who speak different languages understand equally.
I write and direct my comedies; I get my inspirations from my environment and try to tell it in a funny way. One of the comedies that have gotten me comments was Tefetroy, “My nature”. This comedy has gotten viewers in a debate about the cultural aspects and traditions. It was about the sissy guy with a tomboy girlfriend. Many people thought that it wasn’t something that is accepted in the Eritrean culture. However, the comedy tried to show that we are all beautiful in our own ways and that our difference is what makes us beautiful and unique. I was glad that my work raised that kind of attention and discussion.
Another one is titled model; it was a comedy about materialistic people. The video had 100,000 views in 21 hours, which was a success.
And recently, in 2018, I released my comedy that took almost 3-4 years to write. Tiki (smoke) is a comedy that was watched by so many Asmerinos, and it was one of the most famous ones. I would like to thank Kemal Dino, the camera man and editor. After writing it on a piece of paper, you need someone to make it look like a reality on the ground; he is that person and I appreciate his skills.
Over the years, I have been able to produce many comedies. I also have acted in many other series. Besides that, I am busy hosting shows such as fashion shows as well as other events.
- Let me take you on that, about the imitation of other famous celebrities that you do, what do they tell you?
Well, I told you that I used to imitate people’s action from where I was a kid. It doesn’t mean that I do it to make fun of them; I just do it in a funnier way, which always seems to work in having the crowd’s attention. Most of the time, I imitate their actions while in the same room, but they all understand that this is art and nothing personal.
- Reviving the Eritrean Standup comedy….
Stand-up comedy is one of the hardest jobs anyone can do. It is you against the crowd, weather you make them laugh or not, it’s all on you. It needs confidence and flexibility to come up with words and use your time well. Over the years, we have had some great stand-up comedians, but for whatever reason, the stand-up comedy in Eritrea hasn’t been active for years. However, in 2014-2015 I wanted to contribute in stand-up. In 2014, I and my fellow comedian Merhawi Weldu discussed working on standup comedy. We thought that it has been very long since someone had a show, and we did everything that we could to perform a standup comedy properly. We searched the net and read a lot about it. It was a great show which many of the artists and invited guests attended. We weren’t able to sell the videos since it had a sound problem, but I believe that people should take a lesson from a mistake and that is what I did in 2015. That year, I planned to do a solo standup comedy. My show was a success which I was happy about. In 2016, i won the competition for the best Eritrean stand-up comedian which was very rewarding.
- Anything you would like to add before we conclude our interview, Warri?
The greatest battle the entire artists are facing is financial problem. Making it in the entertainment industry requires a lot of money. After finishing a movie or any kind of video, prices that are offered aren’t close enough to pay a single actor. In relation to this, one of the biggest mistakes we are all making is selling our works on You-Tube. It is not supposed to be like that. Artists in the developed countries sell their videos for a limited time. But we sell it without any time limit, practically handing over your ownership to You- Tube. I wish that we become smart about it. Of course everyone does it, including myself.
At last, I would like to thank my family, friends and fans for their support. I was fortunate to have someone I consider as my second father, Teacher Efrem Fiqadu. It’s all because of him that I am where I am today. And to my fans, it’s your comments and motivations that make me keep on working on comedy. Please keep them coming.