Laughing in the face of Covid-19. . . comedians ride on domestic tourism after tough year

02 May, 2021 - 00:05 0 Views
Laughing in the face of Covid-19. . . comedians ride on domestic tourism after tough year Ntando Van Moyo

The Sunday News

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
THERE was a time when Ntando Van Moyo could tell a joke and laughter would circulate around a room.

This was a time before every laugh, the very expression of joy, would not be muffled by a mask draped over one’s mouth. For a year, Van Moyo has only been able to reminisce about those good old days which, as life goes on under the “new normal”, same like a distant memory from another world.

These days, he now has to search hard in a crowd to find a set of exposed teeth laughing heartily back at him whenever he tells one of his rib cracking tales. Indeed, life for performers has not been the same since lockdown measures were set down in March last year.

For many, it has meant a year languishing in poverty or somewhere close to it, as money from performances dried up. Faced with such grim circumstances, Van Moyo and his motley crew of comedians that make up Umahlekisa Comedy Club, has had no choice but to laugh in the face of Covid-19. Even in tough times, there is space for a little laughter and cheer now and then.

“Covid has been tough on generally every art form, including comedy. It has been really difficult to find any paying gigs as most of the online gigs really don’t pay much. In terms of creativity, I can say that it gave the comedians time to create content as it has given us time to sit down, write and rehearse. Of course, some of the material has overstayed its relevance over the year.

How have we tried to survive? We have tried to adapt and adjust our content to fit the situation and go with the flow. Comedy needs you to be relevant, it needs you to be fast thinking as well as adaptive you know.”

As pockets have dried up and as fans have stayed home, Van Moyo says even the business of making material that gets the desired laughs has also suffered.

“It’s been difficult because comedy thrives on social interaction, it has been very difficult to create content that people love. There’s been a lot of competition on social media because everyone is creating something but they’re not creating for the stage. So, it has been really quite hard to adapt to that pace of creativity,” he said.

While many comedians have taken their humour online, Van Moyo says such platforms are not necessarily lucrative for comedians. In an era where everyone with a smart phone is a comedian, Van Moyo said they had also found themselves in competition with people who had never performed live, people who did not care how a punchline landed or had never felt butterflies in their stomachs before they set foot on stage.

“It’s been difficult because comedy thrives on social interaction, it has been very difficult to create content that people love. There’s been a lot of competition on social media because everyone is creating something but they’re not creating for the stage. So, it has been really quite hard to adapt to that pace of creativity,” he said.

Despite the challenges faced, Van Moyo and Umahlekisa have found ways in a terrain that threatens to make them extinct. Aligning with the country’s drive to boost local attractions, they have come with their own unique brand of comedy tourism.

“We have tried to utilise the spaces that have been opened up by Covid-19. As you can see, we are working on a domestic tourism drive in-line with government and we are trying to promote domestic tourism. That is an example of an avenue and one can say is that it falls in line with one about being adaptive, creative and finding spaces where we can fit in. We cannot simply just focus on the struggle. We need to find solutions amidst all this.

“This is part of our blueprint, part of our big plan of expanding the comedy brand. We piloted it some time back and when Amagugu first opened we took comedy there. We also did it in Gwanda and that was all part of the effort of trying to market local tourist spaces.

We were not really approached by government but we are trying to contribute to efforts that are being undertaken with the hope of maybe getting buy-in from the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority when we show them how comedy can be used to market local tourist destinations. We are also trying to encourage people to visit local destinations,” he said.

Van Moyo said they had got the idea to throw the spotlight on local tourist attractions after realising that the sector usually separated entertainment from other aspects of tourism.

“How did the idea come about? Well, we felt that there are people that love to go out and there are people that love comedy but they never visit some of these places because they feel like they’re not accessible, they feel like there is no entertainment and they just book in and stay there.

So, our plan was to bring the entertainment so that they have a unique experience and fuse tourism and comedy. The content that we make would also be tailormade for tourists, it would be tailormade for the audiences that we take with us. We are looking at this as a family friendly endeavor where everybody can come with their family and enjoy the outdoors and comedy.

We would like to also have comedians being tour guides, for example when people are doing things like zip-lining. We want to show the versatility and adaptability of comedy and how it can also fit in and help in the drive to boost tourism,” he said.

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