Try making them laugh

This is how I got into comedy.

I was in my second year working at IBM when I met Etienne Shardlow. He was working for a different part of the company and a colleague had told me something which immediately sparked intense interest – Etienne was a comedian by night.

I had to know more. Upon meeting him, I instinctively pelted him with questions. How did he get into it? What exactly does he get up to?

Etienne has been in the comedy game for close to a decade and won MNet’sLaugh Out Loud” some years ago, which gave him momentum to kickstart his career.

He facilitated comedy workshops at the Joburg Theatre, so it didn’t take a lot to have me hooked on the prospect of joining one of those.

The hardest lesson I learned from the very first of those workshops was simple: It’s one thing laughing with your mates, but a completly different ball game trying to make a bunch of strangers crack a smile.

I came away from that first experience knowing I had a lot of work to do.

A few weeks later, in June 2009, I had developed my act a tad. Etienne recommended I try my hand at one of Johannesburg’s popular comedy clubs – Cool Runnings. I called them and they slotted me into their famed “open spots”.

Open Spot: A 5 minute window, slap-bang on that Cool Runnings stage in a line-up of more seasoned comics. 5 minutes to, as they say in comedy, kill or die.

It was the day after my birthday that I had my first stint at Cool Runnings. 7 June 2009. [I chucked in that date so you can figure out my birthday and send me wishes / presents as you please]

Anyway, it was a memorable performance. Loyiso Gola happened to be MC that night and it went well. Good laughs. Not unbelievably outstanding, but good enough to warrant a warm applause and interesting chats with a number of rather pretty women.

Not a bad return for a first-timer.

The ego at that point just about matched my already-overlarge head. Confidence is a funny thing. I remember walking into the office the next morning with a floating mood I hadn’t felt in ages.

“This is it.” I repeated those words to myself countless times. I had to take another stab at it.

I was back on that same stage a month later. Let’s just say I walked off with a disproportionate head-to-ego ratio. My head was the only large thing left as my ego receded to the depths of my psyche.

That night yielded scattered laughter and the awkwardness was torture. I tried new jokes that night and most of them didn’t fly.

It was bad enough to keep me off stage for 3 months. I didn’t even attend so many workshops anymore.

Something changed significantly when Etienne lent me a book: “The Comedy Bible” by Judy Carter. What a gem. It felt like a missing piece in my personal puzzle. It gave tips and hints and provided a structure for my jokes.

Etienne had organised a small-scale comedy festival at the Joburg Theatre. Among the list of performers was Mpho Popps, a runner up in South Africa’s second season of “So You Think You’re Funny” and Chris Mapane, an enthralling comic with an incredible knack for working almost any crowd.

Tyson fine-tuning the set, Joburg Theatre

That night was one of my most memorable. Armed with a formulaic approach to the comedy, the response was by far the best I’d experienced up until that point. I also managed to network with Mpho and Chris, whose advice I still value.

I decided to use some money I had saved up to leave the workplace and try my hand at a degree from Rhodes University.

I’ll get into that in the next installment. Comedy still remains a large part of me.

Keep coming back…

-Tyson

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2 thoughts on “Try making them laugh

  1. You hit the nail on the head! It’s harder getting a room of strangers to laugh than your Aunt Bebe. I would LOVE to do a comedy workshop in South Africa in 2012. Your blog has given me the idea.

    1. Oh my goodness!!!!!! Judy Carter!!!!!!!!!
      [totally star struck!!!]
      That would be SO awesome!! Thank you for visiting my blog! Is it possible for me to be added to a mailing list of yours? Just incase you do eventually host a workshop this side?

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