5 years in the laughing business

Andrew Moyo

ZIMBABWEAN stand-up comedy has experienced steady growth in the past few years, which can easily be attributed to hard work by several comics.While stand-up has existed on the local scene for many years, with pioneering characters like Edgar Langeveldt having started the rib-cracking business in the late ‘90s, the genre failed to make a significant impact until recently.

More comics have come to the fore, all with the objective of making the genre known to everyone.

Names like Carl Joshua Ncube, Doc Vikela, Simba The Comic King, Q, Comrade Fatso and Michael K quickly come to mind.

Simba The Comic King
Simba The Comic King

But it would be unfair to talk about the rise of local stand-up comedy without giving special mention to Simuka Comedy.

A brainchild of Doc Vikela, real name Victor Mpofu, and Simba Kakora, popularly known as Simba the Comic King, Simuka Comedy was created in 2011 to give both upcoming and established comics a platform to express themselves.

And the association has somewhat achieved a greater part of their founding objectives in the five years they have been in business.

Certainly, the name Simuka Comedy does not quickly ring a bell to those that do not keenly follow the genre, but almost everyone knows the comics that constitute the club including those that have benefited from it.

Speaking in an interview, one of the co-founders of the company Doc Vikela said there was still more to achieve.

He was, however, quick to point out the direction they are shoving towards is encouraging.

“It is an awesome feeling to have survived these five years as Simuka Comedy. The comedy movement is growing and in such a short space of time we have managed to make a meaningful contribution to the overall growth of the comedy industry.

Through Simuka, there are comics who are now making a living from comedy,” said Doc Vikela.

Starting off with an audience averaging five people at Book Café/Mannenberg in Harare, the movement has gradually grown in prominence and now attracts magnitudes of followers.

Almost every top comic in the country has graced their stage at one point, with fresh talent shooting to prominence through the clubs initiatives.

Some of the acts who launched their careers through the platform include Gift The Cracker, Long John, Kadem and Louis the Comic Prince among others.

The comedy club last week celebrated its fifth anniversary at Sopranos in the capital. Several comics among then Long John, Clive Chigubhu, Bhutisi, Boss Kedha and the two founders took part in the celebrations.

According to Doc Vikela, Simuka was created after the realisation that most comics were failing to find a proper platform to showcase their talents.

However, the comedy club is yet to embark on international tours, but they have covered extensive ground in the country.

“Simuka is there to groom and launch many careers which has led to the emergence of a fully-fledged comedy circuit. Previously no proper platform was available to showcase talent in the comic industry,” he said.

“The good thing is we have over the years received tremendous support from veterans like Carl Joshua Ncube, Edgar Langeveldt and Michael K, which has in a way contributed in fortifying our brand. Our comics are now known country-wide.”

The closure of Book Café proved to be a major blow as the club struggled to settle elsewhere. They, however, have since settled at Sopranos where they host a show once a month.

Apart from the place they now call home, they also hold shows in other suitable venues around the capital like Alliance Française, Maestro and Reps Theatre.

Doc Vikela notes the local comedy industry is growing though at a slower pace compared to their counterparts in the region.

“The local comedy scene is blossoming and if we continue working like this, the sky will be the limit.

The biggest challenge in this business has been performance space because there are very few venues that host comedy shows unlike in other countries,” he said.

Top comic Long John, who got his first shot on the Simuka stage, has positive words for the comedy club.

“Simuka is a brilliant developmental platform because they have been responsible for grooming many talented acts including myself.

The first time I went on stage at a Simuka show, I was actually booed at, but these guys kept on encouraging me in the process showing me the ropes,” recounts Long John.

“If it was not for Simuka I don’t think I would have made it this far because they were responsible for my transition from being an amateur to becoming a professional and now I am now doing international tours because of that opportunity.”

And of late, promoters have been inviting international comics after realising the growing comedy fan base.

Some of the international stand-up comics who have held sold out shows on local soil include Anne Kansiime, Barry Hilton and John Vlismas.

Kansiime will actually be returning for another show at the HICC on August 6 following the overwhelming success of her initial concert at the 7 Arts Theatre last year.

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