HARARE - Whenever people talk of entertainment, music and theatre immediately come to mind.
While the entertainment subject is a broad one, in Zimbabwe comedy is one such discipline that has not been regarded in the same manner as music albeit equally having the same entertaining value.
Music by any measure is one of the most powerful tools not only of entertainment but communication since time immemorial.
Its influence cuts across all age groups and cultures. As such dance and theatre have also accompanied music in a way almost sharing the same appealing value.
While music has taken centre stage in the showbiz domain it is the neglect by stakeholders on such promising disciplines such as comedy that begs more questions than answers.
At international stage, stand-up comedy has proved that it is a massive crowd-puller when given the necessary support and recognition, something that is evidently lacking in our mother land.
In America, such comedians as Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, Steve Harvey and Will Smith have made millions simply out of cracking jokes.
Closer to home in South Africa Trevor Noah and David Kau have made a name for themselves through sharing jokes.
In Zimbabwe while Edgar Langevledt and Carl Joshua Ncube have proved that individual talent and aggressiveness in the competitive showbiz sector can take one far, it is the lack of support from the government as well as stakeholders that seems to be a major drawback.
Just like how music has received an explicit support from various stakeholders including the government, comedy is one area that yearns for attention.
The term promoters has largely been associated with music, with many having made their names through their support for music, with some musicians going to the extent of acknowledging such support in their songs.
We have witnessed government-organised music galas being entirely musical from sunset to the following morning. The same applies at government functions where musicians have enjoyed the larger piece of the cake.
Talk of awards, the music genre has sponsors stampeding as it is one form of art that has its stand-alone awards, the Zimbabwe Music Awards.
As if that is not enough, the genre even has the capacity of splitting the awards based on the genre of music. For instance, we have the Hip-Hop Awards, the Urban Grooves Awards, Zimbabwe Gospel Awards and the Women International Music awards.
But perhaps due to the apparent neglect of such genres as comedy which in reality if given proper support can scale heights and match music pound for pound.
At a time when musicians in Bulawayo and its hinterland have complained of marginalisation and the general lack of support, comedians here have surprisingly managed to pull a considerable crowd despite lacking adequate resources.
That we have talent in Zimbabwe on the comedy front, is not subject for debate but what is firstly needed is the ability to recognise it as a commanding and reliable form of entrainment before any form of support can be unveiled.
Before we could talk of our local acts, the power of comedy can easily be traced from the time when popular Ugandan comedian Anne Kansiime drew a surprisingly huge crowd and the show was a classic piece to such an extent that many who missed the show and those who attended have longed for her return.
Such is comedy, but lest people forget that when Kansiime strutted her stuff, our local comedians were there to prove their mettle to which they never disappointed.
What was only disappointing was that it had to take the famed Ugandan artist for them to make such a big crowd crack their ribs.
Sadly, it had to take a foreigner for locals to appreciate their own. This only paints how far the comedy industry has been simply overlooked in Zimbabwe.
Comedians should fight for their own space.
One of the top Bulawayo-based comedians Clive Chigubhu accused promoters of taking local comedians for granted.
“The challenge we are facing is we are always being used by promoters who consider us as not important even after a great performance yet we would have attracted a bigger audience who would have loved our work,” lamented Chigubhu.
He said comedy was now on its rebirth. “This is a rebirth of comedy, we are a small family but we are united.”
He however, accused fellow comedians for sometimes putting up shoddy shows.
“Egos are being shown by some upcoming comedians as they sometimes take the audience for granted by not showing effort in their sets in the process destroying an audience that was loyal and built from years ago,” Chigubhu said adding that it was that kind of behaviour that makes local jesters fail to reach the international stage.
Chigubhu also complained about less opportunities and platforms for local comedians to showcase what they are capable of.
Another Bulawayo-based comedian, Ntandoyenkosi Van Moyo feels the industry is littered with a variety of challenges that need financial bailout.
“Most of the comedians we have in Bulawayo are people who just wait for promoters to invite them for shows, besides that they are as good as dead,” Moyo said.
“In other words we need promoters to help us grow the industry because as it is we really need support if we are to take this industry far.
“This is why I had to come up with my own monthly programme Umahlekisa Comedy Club where I try to bridge the gap and have our own platform where we organise our own shows, showcase our talent to the people in the process keeping ourselves active in the industry.
Imagine if we can attract a big crowd on our own without any sponsorship,” Moyo said.
He further noted that there were very few platforms in the city where they can showcase their talents unlike in the capital, Harare where at least there were some promoters and venues for comedy shows.
Popular comedian Babongile Skhonjwa believes that despite all the challenges, the onus was on the comedians to fight for their own space rather than being cry babies.
“I think it’s up to us as comedians to help each other grow the industry. We need to take comedy to the people in clubs, beerhalls and shebeens as well,” Skhonjwa said.
He however, defended the government on its role in helping the comedy industry.
“The government has given us platforms such as state events and galas where some of us perform regularly. The government has a lot of challenges at the moment so we can’t really cry for more.”
“I feel if we improve the standards of our shows more people will attend. At the moment stage set-up is an eye sore and some have poor sound output and are badly organised. Once this is rectified the future of stand-up comedy is bright,” Skhonjwa said.
Arts critic, Lee Mangena feels Zimbabwe has not reached a stage where comedy is widely accepted as a form of entertainment.
It’s true that our comedy industry is still in its infancy. Yes, we are growing but on a slow pace. We have talent, but our comedians still have to up their game for them to match their regional and international competitors. They seem not to know that comedy is now an industry on its own,” Mangena said.
The former state media journalist said the local comedians should also embrace the modern media in their industry.
“If you realise, Kansime has successfully rode over social media yet our local comedians are not really using modern media outlets like whatsapp and YouTube among others to promote the fast-rising genre when comedians in other countries are making a lot of money.”
Mangena also took the promoters to task for not putting their effort in ensuring the genre becomes prominent in the country.
Intwasa Arts Festival director Raisedon Baya whose festival has in the past played a role in giving comedians a desirable platform says he is optimistic that comedy has a big potential if given necessarysupport.
“Comedy is growing, it has big potential. Slowly comedians are moving away from vulgar jokes. I believe for them to be successful they need to approach it with some intelligence. They need to write good and new material rather than giving us same old jokes. But above all, Zimbabwean comedy is growing, just give it a few more years.”