The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
EVERYTHING in life, at least for award winning comedian Clive Chigubu, has the potential to be a joke.
For example, when medical practitioners told him that he might not able to walk again because of a recurring spinal illness, his first thought was how he would never be able to call himself a stand-up comedian if he could not stand up.
Standing up, and not walking, was the first thing that popped into a mind that finds humour even in the joyless occasions and circumstances in life.
“The term stand-up comedy means you have to be standing up to tell any jokes so already my dreams of being a comedian were almost shattered,” he told Sunday Life with a laugh.
That he could find humour in such a situation is testament to Chigubu’s character, the character of a man who laughs in the face of tragedy and always seems like he has a smile dancing on his lips and a laugh itching to explode from his chest.
But for a while things last year were not funny for Chigubu. With a spinal ailment related to meningitis, he had to come to terms with that he might never be the same again.
“I was told that I would never walk again because I had a spinal problem resulting from meningitis. So they removed something from my spine and chances were high that I would never be able to walk again or I would lose my memory,” he said.
While some might have received such news with trepidation, for Chigubu the diagnosis changed his whole outlook on life. For one, it made him lose all the fears that had dogged him when he had his full health.
“I remember that people were very down at home but I looked at it as a test of faith. I started to lose all fear and look at life with a brave face. That’s the spirit that I carry now. My body is small but my spirit is huge. I’m way bigger now and I’m not even scared,” he said.
The two months he spent bed-ridden after the operation hospital were also a test of his standing in public as hospital staff made it a point to give him the best treatment.
“The staff definitely treated me differently. Somehow they kept on encouraging me because I wanted to rush my recovery. They told me to take my time. Perhaps because I’m so well known they might have feared to mess up the operation. But the staff at that hospital were also just amazing. I can never thank them enough and even now I pop in now and then to thank them for what they did for me,” he said.
For years Chigubu has been regarded as one of the Bulawayo arts scene’s wild sons, a carefree young man who could never get accused of saying no to a bit of fun. However, ever since battling ill health, Chigubu has found God and his wild days are seemingly over.
“I grew up in a Christian family but this is something that has grown in me over the last three years . . . I would just say during the time that I was ill, that was the time that I came closer to God. When people say you’ll meet God you might think that this is someone you’ll encounter in human form but that’s not the case. He is just someone that comes and you feel it within. During the time when you’re down I think that’s when you meet God and you understand he’s way bigger than you,” he said.
At church, he said, he hoped to find the answers that had thus far been eluding him in life.
“If you look at us as Zimbabweans, the problems that we face need some form of spiritual guidance. We’ve got questions but very few answers so who do we turn to? We turn to God. If you look at these new churches that are opening they also steal money from the poor. So while you’ll be going to church with your own problems you also end up getting conned. So how do you get stronger? You look at the old churches,” he said.
The comedian has chosen one of the country’s more traditional churches instead of the trendy prosperity congregations frequented by younger people because at Brethren in Christ he felt he could at least find a semblance of equality.
“On 1 January I went to Brethren in Christ because I believe that’s the church that doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor. There are no front row sits and so I went to church and a pastor called Hlongwane knows me and when I was there he told the congregation that, ‘today we have Chigubu in the house of the Lord.’ In church there’s no celebrity, because God is way bigger that any of us and the gift that I have actually belongs to him. I went to that kind of church because the more you grow spiritually the more you realise that whatever gift I have was given to me by a higher power and it’s up to me to gain an understanding of how to use that gift accordingly. People used to see a talented Clive but now people will see a talented and hard-working Clive,” he said.
One of the comedian’s motivations in turning around his life, he said, was the birth of his daughter in 2017.
After regaining his health and locating his spiritual compass, Chigubu said the next thing for him was to regain his position at the top of the food chain in local comedy.
Before his hiatus, he felt that his act had been too stale and predictable for an audience that loved to be tickled by jokes that are fresh and new.
“There was a time when I felt I wasn’t putting any more effort. I started to ask myself why I wasn’t even feeling nervous when I went on the stage anymore. The Bulawayo audience is beautiful because they love you at first but soon they show you signs that you should work harder on your craft because you’ve not yet made it. So I appreciated that and I started to relook at myself,” he said.
Chigubu, who debuted an episode of his new show called Bulawayo Broadcasting from the Chambers a few weeks ago, said he wanted to bring something fresh and new to a comedy scene he felt was now running out of ideas.
“I want to bring back that theatre feel to comedy. Comedians these days go on stage and saying ‘this other day I was chilling with so and so . . .’ and I feel like this is now stale. So how do I bring a different feel to comedy and at the same time revolutionarise it? So that’s basically what I have been working on. It’s that and my TV show,” he said.