Words by Alex Gwaze (Researcher)
Questions by Alex Gwaze, Elspeth Chimedza, and Joanne Peters
The curtain had seemingly come down on comedian Clive Chigubu’s career when medical practitioners told him that he might not be able to walk again, let alone remember his set. News of his condition quickly hit the papers and social media. But, unlike September 2015, when Clive was only in hospital for a week, this time his spinal related illness left him bed-ridden for two months. Lying in bed staring at the hospital walls all day, was not something Clive was used to. This awarding winning comedian’s (National Arts Merit Awards -NAMA) career had started 10 years prior, on a stage.
In 2009, Clive was part of the comedy act “Jeepers Makers” with Mayibongwe Sibanda (directed by Tswarelo Mothobe), that went on to win Amakhosi “Dreams to Fame” competition. After being forced to go solo, due to Mayibongwe’s departure, Chigubu started doing a one hour special for “Amakhosi Live” at Elite 400’s 300-seater auditorium. Since then he has performed at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA), Shoko Festival, Simuka Comedy, Ibumba Festival, Easter Theatre Festival (Malawi), Major Moves Comedy (Botswana), Swaziland International Comedy Festival – and in Kenya and South Africa. Furthermore, his “Asante Sana” and “I Might Be High” Clive shows had spawned a catch phrase and made him a household name, in a relatively short time. However, the comic’s career was forced to come to a complete stop, due to health issues. But, unbeknown to the journalists and social media trolls, Clive was not low.
Clive was in high spirits because he was in possession of the greatest medicine for hard times – a trifactor of God, mixed with supportive health care staff (fans), and topped off with a genuine smile. During these ‘dark’ times Clive drew closer to the All Mighty and spent more time with his family and his daughter. So, it wasn’t long before the headlines changed to “I was sick” and Chigubu was on TV introducing his “Bulawayo Broadcasting from the Chambers” show.
Now that Mr Chigubu is upright and working on new material, we decided it to catch up with this beloved Zimbabwean funny man, so he can tell us some jokes:
AG: Everyone is saying Clive is back! So, we cannot help but start with a throwback to the “Yee yee” catch phrase – which became a sort of trademark for you at many of your shows. Did folks chanting of this phrase fuel your wildest antics on stage?
CG: Yee yeee! That’s what made Clive Chigubu! With comedy we draw some energy from the audience. In theatre it’s called triangular energy – what you throw at them, they feed you back. It creates a wonderful ball of energy. With yee yeee, it gave me all that. And that’s what a comedian needs to deliver a good set. What made yee yee special, is that, it originated from where l’m from. So, it connected the people to my material. Whatever l see, l write about it. So, I took yee yee from the community and it made my work noticeable, original, and wild.
EC: You have background in theatre and acting, and your on stage mannerisms draw roars of laughter. Most people think stand up is just getting on stage and telling jokes. Are we correct in assuming that being able to act out your content helps the crowd connect with your material?
CG: Mostly, probably, correct. People laugh because they can relate with what you’re saying and doing as they follow you with their eyes. Whatever we go through in life, if you find someone who says and does things you do, and notices things that you also notice – your attention is drawn to them. Now, it’s the solution you give – let me rephrase – it’s how the other person is viewing the scene that you created, that triggers their funny bone. And, your opinion is what makes it a joke. Theatre helps with your delivery, tone, body language, and all. So, acting helps you translate your stand up routine faster.
AG: You are a stand-up comedian, so most of your work is live. No second takes, no cut! How do you deal with stage fright?
CG: Oooh that’s the greatest feeling ever! The moment you don’t feel nervous, just know you have lost your connection with your audience. Usually, when l feel like that l smile and pray – “Dear God, you gave me this gift, now lead, l need you now”. At that moment l take deep breath, and get my mic and “yee yeee!! And, everything just happens. It’s a different feeling every time, but the fear is just part of the artist’s experience.
JP: You’ve been in and out of the hospital because of a recurring spinal illness (resulting from Meningitis). We read doctors told you – you could lose your memory and you might not able to walk again. And you replied, “so I will never be able to call myself a stand-up comedian”. How do you find the lighter side of life? Are you just optimistic by nature?
CG: When l was growing up, l was a curious boy, very emotional, with lots of fear. Getting on stage helped me with my confidence, because when l do good, my spirit becomes calm. l walk the walk. And, being raised by a family that strongly believes in taking things lightly and laughing – mostly when you’re down – l think, that shaped my approach to life’s punches. You have to take them with a smile. It does wonders for your spirit. It’s way better than bottling things which can fuel anger, jealousy, and other poisons. It’s always good to be optimistic. You know something, you can train your mind to smile.
AG: People who fall upon hard times often turn to God and you said “during the time that I was ill, I came closer to God”. You grew up in a Christian family, and your grandmother was a devoted follower, who also inspired your stand-up career. So, why are you always targeting these new churches and prophets in your act?
CG: My late grandmother really shaped my spiritual path. But, you know it’s even there in the bible – the fake prophets will be plenty verses. Even the ones that can move mountains. That’s the danger we are exposed to as a society. Right now, as a people, we are in a moment of weakness. Therefore, we are easy prey for con men. They borrow flashy cars and preach overnight success. False men taking money from the poor whilst hiding behind the Bible. I cannot overlook this buffoonery. l write what l see and sometimes you can create awareness using stand up. That’s one of my #goals (laughs) maybe. It doesn’t mean that they are no good prophets or pastors. There are plenty shaping many – spiritually (not financially). You will be amazed. But for those with bad motives – Chigubu creates jokes that will make you think, yeah l am laughing but it’s true.
AG: Amen! You are classified as social comedian, especially because you deal with tribal hang ups, township life, and your own idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, you shy away from the politics, because “you want people to laugh at themselves during these trying times”. They say laughter is the best medicine, can comedy really heal some of the suffering we have endured as a people?
CG: Comedy helps the healing process by starting a conversation – a ‘funny’ conversation. For instance, l met a very cheerful old man in my hood. We were just complaining about the mosquitoes. He instantly replied – “if l had to choose between these mosquitoes and Gukurahundi … l will choose Gukurahundi”. He immediately laughed at his own joke, because he wasn’t carrying that bottled anger in him anymore. He could not only bring up Gukurahundi casually, he could also laugh about such a sensitive issue. Really, that’s what comedy does, it creates such an environment. I believe it really is the greatest medicine.
EC: The Zimbabwean comedy scene is getting bigger and more mainstream. There are now comedy clubs in Harare and Bulawayo – and festivals like Simuka. Plus, we have a rich history of great comedians like Mukadota and Carl Joshua Ncube. What do you think is stopping us from reaching the next level, whatever that might be?
CG: The next level needs co-operation and support. Two things which are rare locally. Just a few companies are adjusting and trying; but you know, somehow, social media has kept the power. On social media it’s a game of numbers. The more followers you have as an individual, the chances are high a deal will come knocking at your door. Having these festivals and clubs helps us bolster our own platforms through sharing the stage with others. Together we market ourselves and Zim comedy to our nation. That’s the next level we need. That way more comics will be born. But, we need to stop focusing on numbers for ourselves only and put more effort on numbers for #ZimComedy too.
JP: You once said promoters love to use the phrase “I want to give you exposure, yet in actual fact they would be exposing you to poverty”. So, in your experience, what is the best way for up and coming artists to promote themselves in a way that is financially rewarding, and beneficial for the next generation?
CG: Golden rule as an upcoming comic is get on stage first – be seen, let the press appreciate your potential. So, just know your first gigs are free – they are called open mics. The more you perform, the clearer your vision of what kind of a comic you wanna be, becomes. During open mics, bookers listen to your set then decide on a slot for you. Again, realise you’re still using the bookers platform to grow. So, don’t expect big monies when you are opening for 5 to 7 minutes. Think of it as gift to prove you are able to draw a reaction at an average pace of three laughs per minute. If you can do that, then you become the headliner – with monies in your pocket. The next stage is to push for the commercial world. Once you’re in there, know your worth – because that’s when the promoter’s talk of exposure (meaning numbers versus money), is important. For example, if you have 100 followers on IG but the promoter wants to book you for a 500 seater gig, that’s an easy yes to exposure. So, it’s a game of do l benefit or does he or she.
AG: Your dad is Shona; your mother is Ndebele and you grew up speaking both languages and interacting with both tribes. As a trilingual artist, how important do you think it is for Zimbabweans to use local languages – before, during. and after they become headliners?
CG: Local ndizvo!! It’s even better for your audience, because they will be in tune with you. And, some jokes are funnier in Ndebele or Shona. It’s an added advantage if you can tune into your Ndebele or Shona side with the mood of the crowd. It also promotes our voices to the world. But, before we go that far, it can also help the fight against one of the biggest pandemics – tribalism. You know, ukusembenzisa ulimi iwesiNdebele emsakazweni kudala ingxoxo enzingembangela yokubana kwenziwe inhlelo ezinengi ngesintu.
AG: Lastly, your mother once said to you, “Son, I know you are doing ok, but can you get a real job?” If you were forced (at gunpoint, at the edge of cliff) to get a “real job”, what would it be, and why?
CG: Ha ha ha ha! (laughs) This cannot be realer! l believe l was born to be – and my purpose is to be, a comedian. Guns, knives, hand grenades (laughs), and cliffs! (laughs) l will jump. With a smile. And say yeee yeee!! At least, even if I die – l managed to do what I was meant to do. That is, to make this world smile. Our world can be a better place to live in if we all smiled and laughed more.
Follow Clive Chigubu : https://www.facebook.com/CliveChigubuOfficial/