Sketch comedy ripe for the picking

Tinashe Kusema The Big & Small Screen
THERE once was a man who had a dream. He is not Martin Luther King Jr.

This man’s dream was to scour the world for the hottest untapped comic talents and bring them together under one roof to create a hot and edgy variety show.

That man was Lorne Michaels and that was roughly 42 years ago as the now 72-year-old set out to create the hit television show that is “Saturday Night Live”.

Starting off with the likes of Larraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase, the show slowly but surely built its reputation on top notch satire and dark humour to be one of the longest and most successful episodic sketch variety shows.

Over the span of 40 years, the show has been the launch pad of some of the world’s most successful comedians: Eddie Murphy, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, David Spade and Tracy Morgan.

It also comes with solid social commentary covering anything and everything with its unique take on pop culture.

I bring “SNL” because over the past couple of months, I having been trying to come up with a write-up on comedy in Zimbabwe.

The Digital Age has every filmmaker and film enthusiast chomping at the bit on how they can contribute and where they will fit in. And on this I will be judge, juror and executioner.

While it has not really picked up steam, I think the local variety show guys have done a fairly good job. I stand to be corrected on this one, but I think the field has grown considerably. We now have a few stables like Bus Stop TV, Magamba TV, the soon-to-be-launched Live and Fluid on Stage and my favourite, PO Box TV.

As the stables have grown, so too has the talent base as the likes of Rolland “Boss Kedha” Lunga, Admire “Bhutisi” Kuzhangaira, Tyra “Madam Boss” Chikocho, Samatha “Gonyeti” Kureya and host of other names have become celebrities.

We should also applaud the behind the scenes guys like Luckie Aaron for the work they are doing.

With The Book Café dead and buried, and many arts houses operating at low capacity, there have not been too many avenues for these guys to express themselves and hone their craft. But ingenuity is the one thing not lacking on the Zimbabwean arts scene, as these comedians have flooded social media with their talent. While they wait for Zimbabwe to officially switch to digital and the new television stations to start operating, these guys have been using Facebook and other social media platforms as the canvas for their art.

Now even some bars and nightclubs have warmed-up to the idea of using their talents rise to fill up their joints. Kudos to them too!

Now for the way forward.

There is need to professionalise operations. Put a little structure into things, define roles and start churning out well-written, well-edited and — most importantly — well thought out productions.

Over the last couple of months, I have noticed that ideas are starting to run dry.

Take Chikocho’s Madam Boss character. It is evident that not much thought was put into the character and as such her true talents are yet to be realised.

Chikocho is more than her overpowering boss role. Her true calling is in physical comedy — not the slapstick Charlie Chaplin stuff, but the Rowan Atkinson, Jim Carrey, Kate Mckinnon and Melisa McCarthy stuff.

Investing in formal acting lessons would also do wonders for our comedians. The first rule of acting is finding the right material for one’s performance. That said, there is also the need to find good, competent scriptwriters.

Given financial constraints, I understand the need to multi-task but when you have one person holding the camera, directing, editing and then acting as well. But the result is always not as good as it would be if everyone had a specific, professional role.

Unity of purpose is another area in which we can improve. We have so many production houses in Zimbabwe and if some of them came together and pooled their resources and talents, they would be able to produce even better material for greater financial returns.

Instead, the stables split or collapse before really “arriving”.

PO Box split. We now have the original and a splinter. We also have Comic Pastor and his crew. There are several others.

And my last piece of advice: Come up with the right material. In other words, know your audience.

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