Happy Sweet 16 Blacks Only

2014-12-14 08:38

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In October 1998, the Blacks Only Comedy Show entered the world with an all-black line-up and a laugh, instead of a tear. It happened on The Mandela stage at the Joburg Theatre.

Founded by funnyman David Kau (in partnership with his managers, Kim Mari and Roddy Quin from Real Comedy), its aim was to provide a platform for talented black comedians who wanted to perform in vernacular. The event, which is now considered the highlight of the local comedy calendar, celebrated 16 years this year.

Kau says that nearly two decades of Blacks Only has taught him that “South Africans have a great sense of humour, and there’s lots of talent in South African townships, which may be overlooked or marginalised because they don’t perform in English. South African audiences are very loyal, as long as you deliver what you promise.”

‘The first comedy show I ever saw was the first one I was in’

And proof of South African audiences’ loyalty is the growth the franchise has seen over the years. What started out as a one-night-only affair, Blacks Only has since grown to multiple shows in various cities. The pioneering businessman and entrepreneur has been quoted as saying: “I’d never had experience in stand-up comedy. The first comedy show I ever saw was the first one I was in.” But Kau has turned Blacks Only into a hugely successful business.

I ask him about Blacks Only’s greatest contribution to the space. “The upcoming talent that has graced our stage and has gone on to land television shows, MC gigs, radio and TV adverts. I don’t know many black comedians who are known unless they have been on Blacks Only.”

And true to its name, the line-up of funnymen and women cracking jokes and spitting satire is still mostly made up of people and puppets of colour (with the exception of Anne Hirsch and Alan Committie). This year’s line-up included Joey Rasdien, Donovan Goliath, Skhumba Hlophe, Sifiso Nene, Committie, KG and Thapelo Seemise.

“There are so many new acts that are so talented,” says Kau. “From Tips to Skhumba, to Mdu Ntuli and Isaac Gampu.”

‘My wife makes me laugh’

I ask Kau who’s the funniest person he knows, to which he replies: “My wife makes me laugh a lot.” In addition to success on stage, Kau has enjoyed TV and film success. In 2004, he premiered his hugely influential Pure Monate Show, which he had conceptualised with longtime friend Kagiso Lediga. It had huge pop-culture impact, with characters such as Spykos and his singles Siya Swima and Birthday Yam. Kau’s character was called Little Brown Cow (a play on his surname).

It marked the start of the new-school comedy business boom that today sees stand-ups booked for tens of thousands of rands to emcee corporate functions, and has allowed our comedians to fund and produce entire films.

Kau has sought to create relevant content across platforms, and his Diprente production company with Lediga has produced some of the top comedy film and television content in the country, including Pure Monate, Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola, and the Bantu Hour with legend Hugh Masekela. Diprente was also behind feature films Taxi Ride and Blitz Patrollie.

‘There’s money in this thing’

Diprente’s collaboration with agency and production house Podium has seen them creating Pan-African showcases with comedians from Zimbabwe, Kenya, Senegal and other parts of the continent. Together, they created the successful annual showcase Stand Up Africa in Montreal, Canada. I ask Kau what he would tell a younger David in 1998, and he says: “At the end of the day, everything will eventually work out how it’s supposed to. People come and people go. Everybody has their own path. There’s money in this thing.”

Long live Blacks Only Comedy!

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