I quit law school for comedy: Langeveldt

HARARE - Edgar Langeveldt is widely regarded as the Zimbabwean comedian. The multi-talented Bulawayo-born artist was the forerunner of professional comedy on the local scene and went on to win the Prince Claus Award in 2005 that came with whopping 25 000 Euros.

Daily News on Sunday’s Sharon Muguwu (SM) recently shad a candid interview with Langeveldt(EL) in which the award-winning bared all on a variety of issues.

Below are excerpts of the interview:

SM:  Who is Edgar?

EL: I am the eldest of five children, born October 6, 1969 in Bulawayo (father born in Rusape, mother born in Shurugwi). I grew up in Harare, attended Arcadia Nursery School, St. Martin’s Primary before proceeding to Hartmann House Preparatory School for Boys and St. George’s College between 1979 and 1987.

I obtained nine ‘O’ Levels and 12 Points at ‘A’ Level and studied LLB Honours Law Degree for two and a half years at University of Zimbabwe (1988, 1989 and 1990). In 1990 I wrote, performed and recorded the winning entry in The Commonwealth Foundation Youth Music Competition and represented Zimbabwe February 1990 at the Commonwealth Games, Auckland, New Zealand.

Upon abandoning Law as a career I proceeded to become one of Zimbabwe’s earliest pioneers of the advocacy of artists’ rights and working conditions. I obtained a London Chamber of Commerce and Industry diploma in public relations, marketing, selling/sales management and advertising in 1995. 

I then established Nexus Talent Agency in 1996 and began developing other musicians, actors, dancers, writers and craftspeople, many of whom are well recognised or award winners.

In 1997 I impressed the late Paul Brickhill of Book Café, Fife Avenue as a network partner in his venue, and became the first ever professional stand-up comic in Zimbabwe. We had hundreds of shows and thousands of local and international audience.

I was interviewed regularly by BBC World, CNN, Reuters, Mail & Guardian, The Economist, all local tv and radio and press and became well-known in Southern Africa. I travelled to Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland, and South Africa to perform at the World Cup 2010 in Cape Town and for late President Levy Mwanawasa (Zambia), King Mswathi, many national tours and every city and town in Zimbabwe!

In 1999 I was kidnapped and assaulted for political satire. My jaw was broken but the assailant was convicted. In 2005 I was awarded the Prince Claus royal Awards for Humour and Satire (Achievement of Excellence in Arts & Culture - Creating Spaces of Freedom) and 25 000 Euros.

In 2010 I launched the official annual Zimbabwe Comedy Festival (ZimComFest) and remain director to this day. On December 1 and 2 this year I shall attend the Prince Claus Awards in Amsterdam and come before the Royal Dutch family and networks.

SM: How old are you?

EL: I am 46 years old and one of the few surviving arts veterans from the 1980s.

SM: What is your relationship status?

EL: I am separated from my wife, Raquel Welsh with whom I had three children.

SM: Can you tell us more about your children?

EL: My eldest son Timmins is 23 years old, a computer software developer and an international award-winning documentary film-maker. My daughter Eden (21) is a Christian Missionary. My third is Ryan, he is a 16 year old Prince Edward student and aeronautical design genius… he hopes to train as a pilot with our national Air Force.

SM: Has being a comedian made you an easy-going parent?

EL: I am so easy-going the relatives thought I was too liberal. I encourage my children to first know and love God, second to follow Jesus and third to work hard and be fiercely loyal to our national interests and advancement. I insist that they be their true and authentic selves, in expression, thought and deeds.

They have grown up with art all around and meeting and greeting their father’s colleagues -from Tuku and Sulu to producers, directors, and National Arts council administrators- on a friendly, casual but always respectful level.

SM: You are no longer visible on the local comedy scene, are you still practicing?

In 2006 my father Timmins Senior passed away tragically and in 2007 my baby sister Tanya was found hanging under unclear circumstances. Devastated, I retired from performance arts, spending time instead on other avenues as I came to terms with my grief. I went behind the entertainment scene, turned to writing and remained focused on mentoring, networking and promoting other artists.

SM: What are you currently doing? How are you earning a living?

I reside now at my father’s rural musha (home) in Headlands, 136 kilometres on the Harare-Mutare road. I breed and trade ducks, chickens and quail and grow vegetables.

Occasionally, I get invited outside our borders for example, last year July 2014 I was in Durban and the Grahamstown Arts Festival. I think South Africans see me twice a year, more than Zimbabweans! I am very well-known in the region so local fans may think I have disappeared but the international community knows better! Performing now and again outside Zimbabwe pays well enough to sustain me throughout the year.

I am a teacher in Headlands and have casual students in English, science, computers and even law. We are developing new technologies for solar villages, wind energy and eco-based agriculture. I also coach and referee local football as well as a service consultant for ICT and computer accessories.

SM: In our earlier communication, you mentioned that there were challenges you were facing that you wanted your fans to know. Can you elaborate on that?

EL: I love my true supporters, the people who attended my productions between 1996 and 2006. For ten years they showed me love and kept me going. I thank them all, great and ordinary, white, black, coloured, Indian and from all political persuasions. I assure them that when I have established my farm, I will return to live shows again.

Right now I face the same challenges everyone is feeling: global warming, the “war on terror”, sanctions, social frustrations. Above all, it is necessary that blinkers are removed and people stop seeing me through old glasses… it’s amazing how much misinformation and ignorance surrounds us as public figures.

My main challenge remains more personal than professional, because an artistic career is for life and you expect ups and downs. But my separation from my beloved wife has hurt my kids socially and emotionally, and really been one of life’s biggest disappointments. Still, I am young at heart, incredibly sensual for my age and confident I will love and be loved again by someone very special.

SM: Are you happy with the quality of the new generation of comedians that is there locally?

EL: Having inspired, trained, promoted, supported and encouraged them all (they jokingly refer to me as The Godfather of local comedy). I can only speak well of them and praise them for following my footsteps and creating a viable industry. They are unique characters, hardworking and generally pleasant and polite.

They could improve on material, pronunciation and sometimes I feel the marketing is slicker than the product! In a recent conversation, a theatre guru was asked why local comics are not filling venues and he replied that – compared to my approach, technique and gift for generating comedy material – the youngsters have some way to catch me.

It is probably due to the fact that I am older; more travelled, and also have simultaneously been a multi-disciplined artist: poetry, writing, music, theatre, dance, film, television, radio… I have done them all at highest levels.

SM: In your opinion, who is the best or has the most potential among the new generation of comics?

EL: Clive Cherub, Ntandoyenkosi “General KB” Moyo, Michael Kudakwashe.

SM: You used to be bold when it came to political jokes and other aspects; do you think the current crop matches that?

EL: Not even close! I advised them to avoid controversy , as I was mistreated badly by violent, hateful and frankly ignorant groups and individuals who don’t appreciate art, comedy, satire or even Christianity and faith in God - and I wanted to protect them as youths. I encouraged them to do satire if they wanted to but to explore other material as well. Most of them have avoided controversy and are level-headed young men. I salute them.

SM: Many people say the 25 000 Euros you won at the Prince Claus awards was a curse to you and your career, what do you say to that?

EL: Ha ha not at all! I pumped that money into my three kids-one a computer genius, one a Christian missionary both with diplomas, certificates, skills and talent and the third to be a pilot! More than the money, the Award was granted after a thorough 10-year research I had no idea was occurring worldwide.

I was the youngest recipient aged 34… the next youngest was nearly 60 and the oldest 80 or 90 something years old-the very best and experienced powerful artists worldwide. I thus joined an eminent and royal network, which to me is more important than the money.

Always bear in mind that I won that amount in 2005, a time when the economy was reeling and all Zimbos feeling depressed and struggling. There was a lot of jealousy, bitterness and resentment, to my utter surprise. Most ordinary folk look down on artists so when we suffer they think it’s appropriate, but when we soar like an eagle they feel it’s unfair.

Relatives and friends turned on me, or withdrew affection and support. It made my decision to pull out of the limelight automatic because if there’s one thing I won’t abide its petty stress.

The day I received the Prince Claus Award I could have dropped dead that night but my name and successes were written in stone for eternity. I have seen and done things most folk only dream about.

I am satisfied with how I have navigated these dark days and perilous times. No regrets – the only way is up and forward. Curses? Never! I am too blessed to be stressed!

SM: Do you have any career regrets?

EL: Yes, hiring a manager for four months. I fired him and will never try that again.

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