jason goliath south africa comedy interview

April 2016. Interview by Marelise Jacobs. Cover: Jason Goliath (far left) - Photography by Barbara Potgieter.

Nominated as Best Newcomer in the 2012 Comics Choice Awards, Jason Goliath is a larger than life comedian with a commanding stage presence, ridiculous amounts of energy and a character based set focused on making audiences laugh at life’s uncomfortable truths. We spoke to Jason about the launch of their comedy club in Melrose Arch.

First of all, tell us a little bit about the Goliath Comedy Experience?

Jason Goliath: Man, I can't explain how excited we are. We've got a very good relationship with Comedy Central, that's why our opening is brought to you by them. The whole purpose of that festival is twofold; number one is to launch the club and let everybody know what's happening here and secondly to activate Melrose Arch as the home of comedy and as a comedy destination.

“...because comedy is in its infancy here in South Africa, so is its market...” - Jason Goliath

We've signed a deal with Comedy Central to do this festival for the next three years at least and I'm sure they're going to renew thereafter. Our partners for the festival are Comedy Central on the comedy side and BET on the music side. On 1 May, BET presents the ultimate "unplugged" music experience. The event is a big deal because our club is the third dedicated comedy space in Africa, on the entire continent, the others are Parkers at Monty and Cape Town Comedy Club which belongs to Kurt Schoonraad.

When people speak about comedy still being in its infancy, which for me is the biggest clue to how small comedy still is and what a ways we still have to go. We're excited to provide platform for consistency for gigs every week but more importantly provide local acts with an international quality stage to perform on, which will lend itself to filming DVD's and one-man shows.

It feels like South Africa lacks comedy specials such as Live at the Apollo or festivals like Montreux and the Edinburgh Fringe. Is that what you have in mind here?

Jason Goliath: Exactly. The market in general at the moment, and I'm saying like 90% of South Africans who haven't been to live shows, think that Trevor Noah is stand-up comedy and while he is our personal hero (he's definitely the biggest comedian within the South Africa and now within the world), comedy itself has so many genres and different styles and different types.

Our job here is to showcase all the different genres whether it be improv comedy like Who's line is it anyway, whether it be vernac comedy which is obviously non-English i.e. Afrikaans, Xhosa comedy and then going into the specials where we'll have standard format shows.

We'll have a host with a line up and we'll also lend ourselves to doing one-man shows and essentially anything comedy related so the habit we'd like to form with the new market that we're hoping to attract is that if you come at 8 o'clock from a Wednesday to a Saturday night, there will be something comedy related.

Do you think there's a big enough South African audience for comedy?

Jason Goliath: What we realised is that, because comedy is in its infancy, so is its market and the understanding of comedy. Our jobs as comedians is not only to educate audiences as to where to access comedy, but also on the different genres and types of comedy that is out there.

We also need to fix the perception that comedy is the type of thing that, if you can tell a joke you can do comedy, because joke-telling is totally different. Here you've got to conceptualise your own material from conception, you've got to write your own material. You then got to understand that material, for me, only forms 30% of the thing, 70% is performance delivery.

Style, timing, there's so many little technical aspects and elements that comes in. We've also got to raise the bar. As comedians we have an opportunity to watch the audience, to understand what their appetite is. Very often that will dictate what your set list is going to be. As an artist, there's this pride that you want them to accept whatever you put out but because comedy is so difficult and so unique you've first got to earn your stripes. You've first got to win them over, they've got to like you. When they trust you,s then you can take them down the rabbit hole.

Where do you think South African comedy is at the moment?

Jason Goliath: What's happening now is you're seeing natural industry growth. It's a brand new industry and because the level of comedy in South Africa is very good, that industry is picking up momentum and the natural snow ball effect is happening. You add to that a big catalyst like Trevor Noah and now people who perhaps wouldn't have been interested in local comedy are seeing that hang on, our guys are just as good as these international guys.

To get to Trevor Noah's level you need to have access to stage time. Trevor had the Blues Room where they would play every single week, they were on stage, guaranteed a spot. Thrashing out and fleshing out material so that they were able to get better quicker. It's just like in anything you do, the more you practice the better you become. So the problem is now we've got a lot of comedians but not enough platforms and there's not a big enough audience to support the current stages.