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Refugee comic to wow comedy festival audiences

29 March 20220 comments

Among the dozens of comedians performing at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival is a young man whose start in life was not intuitively conducive to humour.

At the age of four Oliver comic playwright and actor Oliver Twist fled the brutal Rwandan civil war with his family.

He spent his childhood in Malawi, first in a refugee camp, and later in the city where his mother and father started a small convenience store.

The conflict in Rwanda saw up to 800,000 people minority of the minority Tutsi group killed in savage violence.

The scale and brutality of the genocide caused shock worldwide, but no country intervened to stop the killings. Most of the victims were killed in their own villages or towns, many by their neighbours and fellow villagers.

Hutu gangs searched out victims hiding in churches and school buildings and murdered victims with machetes and guns.

Oliver spent his childhood in Malawi, first in a refugee camp, and later in the city of Lilongwe where his mother and father started a small convenience store.

After receiving humanitarian visas from Australia, Oliver and his family settled in Ipswich, Queensland, to begin new lives.

His early experiences mean he is someone who has made the most of opportunities.

At 18, Oliver realised he was funny and started out on comedy club circuit.

He made appearances across Queensland, becoming a regular at the Sit Down Comedy Club in Brisbane and Based Comedy on the Gold Coast.

In 2017 he entered the RAW Comedy competition, and made it to the national finals in Melbourne. In the same year he made a move to Sydney.

Soon after he wrote a one-man play Jali, meaning ’historian’ or ‘storyteller’, telling the tale of his family’s journey.

JALI was been nominated for Best Performance in a Leading Role, Best Independent Production, Best New Australian Work and Best Newcomer at the Sydney Theatre Awards and in 2022, JALI will be presented as part of the Sydney Festival, Perth Festival and at QPAC in Brisbane.

“I wanted to elevate the storytelling form. There are a lot of stories that I share in Jali that wouldn’t translate in a comedy club where people are drinking beer,” Oliver said.

After going through development with the Griffin Theatre Company, JALI premiered in early 2021 to rave reviews and a sold-out season.

In 2021, Oliver had a sell-out series of his new show, GRIOT, at the Darwin Festival and appeared on Letters & Numbers on SBS.

As a comic, Twist has been chosen as support for the likes of Kevin Hart, Wil Anderson, Tiffany Haddish and Becky Lucas. He’s a regular at the Sydney Comedy Store and has performed on the Sydney Comedy Festival Gala and on the festival’s roadshow.

Oliver’s shows are at the Melbourne Town Hall Backstage Room. There are 22 shows between March 31 Mar and April 24.