I am a funny guy. Best man wedding speech funny. Dinner party funny. Around the braai funny but nowhere near stand-up comedy funny. That's an entirely different league, with massive pressure from a demanding and expectant audience. Actually, comedy is no longer a funny guy on the stage, it is now an organisation, an industry if you like. Today, comedy is very much mainstream and in South Africa it is about business, big business. We see top talent on US late night TV, international acts selling out their shows on our shores, financially successful, locally produced comedy movies that thrive at the box office in addition to sharing key shelf space in retail stores. Long-term comedy clubs exist and prosper; comedy is on the bill at some of the biggest theatres in the country. Big, big business.
I have always had a great love and appreciation of comedy, particularly South African comedy. So much so that I hosted my own comedy club for my 40th birthday celebration, headlined by one of my long-time favourites Martin Jonas and supported by then
relatively unknown acts Deep Fried Man, Mpho Popps and Robbie Collins - all now
household names on today's comedy circuit. I even managed to get my own sympathetic laugh from some of my guests.
This is one of the many side benefits as the co-founder and Executive Director of Eventworx: I have been fortunate enough to have worked closely with many of South Africa's top comedic performers over the last decade. This has also got me thinking about how much the industry has changed over this time.
Attending the 2nd Annual Comics Choice Awards with my team this year gave me food for thought. Aside from the obvious back-slapping going on amongst all the comics and the snide remarks about my own eventing industry, a couple of things stood out for me.
Comic landscape is rich in new talent. Many new comics are arriving on the scene every day and they are supremely gifted. Their material is fresh with current issues and is a real sign of the changes in South Africa. More so than ever before, corporates can confidently add new-comers to their entertainment line-ups and deliver a big positive surprise instead of worrying about the risk: often, in fact, the bolder the risk, the richer the reward.
Most comedians' far-reaching talents allow them to cross over from pure stand-up routines into other areas of corporate entertainment. Needless to say, we were not in the least bit surprised to see Tats Nkonzo win this year's Comics Choice Blackberry Newcomer Award. Conrad Koch, SA's talented ventriloquist, will be travelling throughout the country with our team, acting as host and MC for a national internal road show, but will also be doing significant behind- the- scenes topical research in preparation for the show. John Vlismas recently acted as a studio host for a leadership dinner, interviewing local South African legends Jonty Rhodes, PJ Powers and Joe Mafela and having done a large amount of the pre-production work. Make no mistake, 'funny' is why they are on the bill but 'smart' is why they are
And fortunate. Today, there are numerous outlets for them to work on their craft and earn a good living doing so. This is thanks to the efforts of the industry legends who have paved the way with really hard work: dealing with dodgy promoters, working the clubs, undergrounds and the corporate circuit for many years... a far from glamorous road to travel. But their collective efforts show throughout the industry today. And as talented as the newcomers are, when the legends took to the stage at the Awards show, I was reminded of just how genuinely good these guys are and why they are revered in their trade.
Big business enjoys using the talents of these individuals. Banks have used their likenesses to promote products, Internet service providers use them to sell hosting packages and one Cellular company even made a famous comedian their CEO. In our industry, stand-up comics are very much in demand at corporate events as hosts and entertainers. But the real joke lies in the rather heavy irony we often come across: clients want the top guy in the game but don't want him to do his usual material because it is too crude, too foul or edgy, despite the fact that that material makes him appealing to the very audience they intend hosting. The tame option leaves the show limp, so if the comic sticks to his popular routine the audience is usually delighted, while the corporate host despairs.
We generally encourage our corporate clients to widen their view regarding how best to use the endless talent in our comedy landscape. Good comedians share common traits - they tend to be incredibly smart individuals, are keen observers of social trends, have a uniquely original view of everyday life and are gifted at scripting content or story lines ... so use them to add to your next conference programme, training programme or executive strategy session.
I would never have made it as a genuine stand-up comedian - I am nowhere near smart or brave enough - but I have a great appreciation for what they do and just how clever they are. They are worth every cent spent on adding them to any corporate programme, but you need to work with their talent, not against it and you will have the most amazing results.
For more information, visit www.eventworx.co.za or call 011 646 3223.