My performance, which is mainly stand-up comedy and storytelling, is about my life as a legal aid lawyer, underemployed actor, and Eritreaâ€s greatest hockey player.
By Aaron Berhane
Lwam Ghebrehariat was born in Edmonton from his Eritrean parents who immigrated to Canada in early 70s. A lawyer in a day and a comedian in the evening, Lwam, is performing a stand-up comedy titled â€œLwam is Eritreaâ€s Greatest Hockey Playerâ€ at Toronto Fringe Festival starting July 2. His show is expected to be funny and entertaining as he would explore the proudest and vulnerable moments of his life. I interviewed him to give us a synopsis of his show. I would like to thank him on behalf of our readers. Enjoy reading.
Meftih:- What is the synopsis of your play that you are going to perform starting July 2 in Toronto?
Lwam:- My performance, which is mainly stand-up comedy and storytelling, is about my life as a legal aid lawyer, underemployed actor, and Eritreaâ€s greatest hockey player. But I only talk about myself as a springboard for more important things that matter to the audience: relationships, justice, politics, race, and equality.
Meftih:- How do you manage your time to write a play beside your busy schedule of a legal profession? How long did the preparation take to make the play into a stage?
Lwam:- Although I work full-time as a lawyer, I have a good balance between work and outside interests. I make sure to go to open-mic shows regularly to practice new jokes, and I watch good local and international comedians whenever possible.
Most importantly, whenever I encounter an interesting experience or observation in my daily life, I immediately write it down on paper or in my phone. I later return to these notes to see if any of them are funny or interesting enough to develop further. I take public transit to work, and this gives me a daily opportunity to sit and compose material. And a lot of funny things happen on the bus and subway!
The material that I will be performing is the culmination of about two years of my comedy notes and practice at open-mic shows and comedy competitions.
Meftih:- What inspired you to write about your proudest and most vulnerable moments of your life in a theatrical way?
Lwam:- When I finished law school, I was elected to be valedictorian of my graduating class. In my graduation speech I commented on the fact that there were as many black graduates of the school in 2011 as there were in the 1950s. I announced that I was going to address this by making every person in the audience an honorary member of the Black Law Studentsâ€ Association. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin happened to be in the audience, so I said that my announcement also applied to him, and that he had therefore just become Canadaâ€s first black Prime Minister. The audience roared with laughter and Paul Martin raised his fist in the air like a Black Panther.
This event inspired me because it showed how humour can be a tool to make powerful social statements while entertaining people at the same time. I have tried to use humour in this way throughout this production.
Some months later I was working at a law firm, doing a lot of legal writing. In the midst of this I started to distract myself with funny observations, some of which I started to write down. Soon an interior monologue of jokes started forming in my head, inspired by daily events and experiences. I ventured into the world of open-mic shows, getting onstage whenever I could to try out my jokes and stories. Through open-mic shows, stand up comedy classes, and competitions, I slowly built up a body of material.
As a lawyer dealing with stressful situations and the injustices faced my clients, stand up comedy has become a method for maintaining my creativity and a balanced perspective.
Meftih:- How are you incorporating your legal work with comedy? Do you have any concern that some people may see you less serious as a lawyer?
Lwam:-The simple answer to the first question is that I practice law during the day and do comedy on the side. But it is a bit more complicated, because the duties that I have as a lawyer follow me onto the stage. So I am careful not to violate any of my professional obligations as a lawyer when I perform comedy.
As for the second question, I find that people who know me as a lawyer respond very positively when they found out about my comedy and theatre activities. People are very curious about the fact that I do stand-up comedy and have told me that they consider it courageous.
Moreover, the skills and qualities that are developed through stand-up comedy â€” such as clarity, getting to the point, knowing your audience, courage, and public speaking â€” are skills and qualities which make me a better lawyer.
Meftih:- What plan do you have to explore the challenges of Eritrean Canadian in a dramatic way?
Lwam:- I will talk about the funny things about my relationship with Eritrea, which for me and other Eritrean Canadians is mainly a long distance relationship â€” and we all know how hard a long distance relationship can be! I will also talk about the funny things about my relationship with my parents, and growing up as an Eritrean Canadian who speaks Tigrinya. A great thing about humour, aside from the fact that laughing feels good, is that it allows people to talk about and cope with difficult subjects in a safe way. Humour can also be a tool for social commentary. I will use humour in these ways in my performance.
Meftih:- If you have anything to add . . .
Lwam:- I invite everyone to come to my show! It is going to be a lot of fun! Thanks for your interest Aaron and I wish you and your readers all of the best!