I see a lot of these “open letters” out there these days. I often wonder what the purpose of them are. I think the time has come for me to try it. Why now? Because frankly this is all becoming unsustainable.
I am going to break down my career for you. This is by no means a boast. This is an honest example of what it is like to be a me. Im not suggesting I represent an industry. Perhaps I am just an self obsessed narsassit who should have read the financials long ago and walked away from this. But no. This is me. Im pretty much broke. Sure I have saved here and there and tried to spend wisely. But I am not a rich man.
I have put in some extra effort over the past year. You might say that it was due to a painful and messy breakup with my fiancée’. You might also say it was the chance for me to be myself again for the first time in a while. My one man show did well at the National Arts Festival in 2011. It won an award. I was chuffed. By winning an award, I do not want you to have a skewed perception of my attendance. I had none. Literally. A venue that holds 220 people and six have booked. Its soul destroying. I came back with Pants on Fire with Rob Van Vuuren the following year. We win another award. Since the festival, we have performed the show a few times at various venues. We too have to fight for attendance. We made so little money after last years show you wouldn’t believe us. Bills. Mother-fucking bills. Putting on a show there was extortionate.
Here is the crux. Perhaps this is my own problem to deal with. I don’t need to get all deep and philosophical here, but I really, and I mean really love comedy. Im not talking about having a giggle and recalling a joke. Im talking about a life where my artistic focus and energy comes from standing on a stage. You might think this sounds needy. (It is) But this is me. Bare naked Martin. I would go through life feeling content and fulfilled just living as I am. Comedy is my life.(style)
I have material.I have a few jokes. Sure. I have tons of jokes that frankly I have used for way too long. Every comic has. Each time I approach the stage, I have never ever got an idea of what I am going to do or say. I have places I can go to that I know I have, but for me, and I can only speak for me. The stage is a concious flow of my thoughts. Im unarmed and unashamed and fully coherent. The energy of a crowd, the way you can shock or titillate them just goes further than any other rush I can get. Its not a drug. Its not ego trip, its got nothing to do with my ego. It has everything to do with the energy of spreading laughter. I have no religious belief in a God, im not suggesting we do not have souls and spirits though. Laughter to me is a place where we can address ideas and issues with people lighting up, not being forced or told. (Bad comedy exists too, yes I know)
The purpose of what I am doing in my life. What are any of us doing? Please don’t tell me that my mere existence is just to earn as much as possible till retirement, then haemorrhage back into the world at an old age with medical bills and taxes. Folks I am not making much money. Im not asking for a charity handout, but I need people to know what is happening in this industry.
I think this needs a touch of perspective here. Without sounding like a douche, I challenge anyone to go out and do exactly what I do on stage. Do it. Replicate it. Give that time and effort a value. What do you think I am making every time I step on stage? I think I should tell you.
I came here in 2007. Gigs then paid about 40% more than they do today.
That is correct. We are paid on average, mostly under a thousand rand a comedy gig. Now considering that there are only so many gigs in the country, so many gigs in the month, so many comedians to get through, you can see the picture here. Frankly there isn’t enough work. So what you say.
This brings us to now a business side to the comedy industry. Its not enough that you just want to get on stage and make people laugh for a living. No. This is silly. What you really want to do is go out there and become a successful corporate comedian. What is that you ask? Im not the man to tell you. I am not a corporate comedian. It isn’t entirely through my own choosing. Its more a question of the wrong man for the wrong job. I suck at it. Like really suck at it. To me, (and this is just old me talking) comedy has less to do with Corporate work that just about anything. Its like finding out you have super powers like Spiderman. Then thinking. Right, i’m going to use these powers for evil. (Mwhahahahaa cracks knuckles, flicks cape over should and drives off in fancy german sports car.)
So again. What is your point Martin.
I am not a corporate comic. A corporate comic has the ability to churn out the funnies for a varied audience of business folks. I have been to several of these events and honestly I cannot recall a single time I have ever enjoyed it. It may just be me, perhaps I can best describe it like this. It’s like arriving at someone else’s Matric dance at their school without them, because they dumped you before going in. It is that lonely. It is that far removed from what I do. It is not a place I feel comfortable.
Why should this job that brings such elation then have to become possibly the saddest thing in the world. The answer is simple. It is money. So instead of making a grand at a gig (Not in Cape Tow they wont!!) they get the chance to make maybe 15-25k instead. Are they worth that? Honestly? Well. Its your money… you chose whatever you want. But telling me that there are acts who thing they are worth 40k plus is ludicrous. The balance of value in the industry is so skewed towards the money that the heart, soul and integrity of this industry are threatened. Our comics are mostly shit. Why? Because they are lazy gravy fed leeches who have no need to be artists. Artist’s do not drive sports cars.
I say money, but the real word should be greed. Greed is a drug that has done more damage to South African comedy than cocaine has ever come close to. Some local comics are high on the need to control an industry. This I remind you is not an industry. Its an art. You cannot own painting. Why try own humour?
It all the time I have been doing comedy here. I have never felt any solidarity between the acts. I have some very close friends in the business, but I imagine behind closed doors, there is very little talk of me that has been done in the positive. Sure. I am a shit stirrer. But who gives a monkeys. I have had next to no referral work from any local comics. Nobody has gone out of their way to include me in shows or television work or anything of that ilk. I am not bitter. I am being open.
The list of big promoters, the guys who swallow up every possible corporate rand that can be raped and stolen from this industry is long. Many have seen a financial opportunity to take big money from big banks, big fast food companies, wine farms, you fucking name it. It leaches the industry to the point where they walk away with massive massive paychecks. Im not talking “pay your electricity bill” kind of money. Im talking “buying shares in Eskom” kind of money. What do we get as performers? Well I cannot tell you. I haven’t been booked on any of these shows since I have been back.
Does this sound bitter? I think it is starting to turn a little bleak. So let me add some sunshine and flying ponies to the story. Brighten It up a little..
My name is Martin Evans. I live in Cape Town. I have a cool job. I make people laugh for a living. Everything I own comes (well mostly) from making people happy. My job is to make people happy. I get paid for this. Not a lot. But enough to eat and drink and buy the occasional bag of cheese. I get to travel across South Africa. In the past six months, I have been back and forth between Johannesburg and Cape Town over 12 times. I have covered thousands of kilometers in my bakkie (sorry folks, the van is parked outside my flat) back and forth between gigs in Durban and PE umpteen times recently. I have been as busy as I have ever been. I have had a really good year in comedy. I am now working regularly around the country and love it. Although I have run out of venues to perform at. So its a case of returning to the same gigs over and over.
I have in the past made my income from doing some acting jobs for commercials. Its easy money for easy work that is fun. I have done about 20 odd commercials worldwide over the years. Last year I had my record season. I was in seven commercials. Some of them were really quite big jobs. Covering territory’s like the whole of South America. Then time goes by and they end up not using the commercial at all. This happened on three jobs last year. It was a total waste. Frankly a disaster. I had wasted a whole season on pretty much nothing. What upset me more was how much I had to sacrifice my comedy to do it all. To do the season means you are committed to being in Cape Town for pretty much the whole summer whilst you attend castings and call backs. You can go a whole season and land nothing. So with that in mind I thought to myself, Sod it. I am not doing this anymore. Well not for now at least. I need to make more focus on the comedy.
Its not like I haven’t been trying. Here in lies the problem. I have really been trying. Trying to avoid the corporate work, trying to avoid putting anything on film, basically I have been trying. I was recently on an episode of “Come Dine With Me” I had no idea or expectation of what that would lead to. What did it lead to, you ask? Nothing. That is the answer. Perhaps the perception that I am possibly homeless, but not much more than that. I was recorded on film. Finally I have some work on television doing stand up on Comedy Central. But it wasn’t a good gig. I didn’t like it at all. So much so that I cannot bring myself to watch the show. I refuse to watch it. It obviously wasn’t good or I would have heard feedback. So what I choose to do is just ignore it. Not having DSTV makes it easy to avoid.
I have really been trying to just be a comedian. Not an actor, not a corporate performer. Just a comedian. My one man show was as pure an example as I could have of being “just me”.
It got the best reviews I could have hoped for. People were very complimentary about it. It was an exhilarating thing to do. To stand there. No mic, no props, just a story and an audience. It was lovely. But it was an expensive thing to do. The cost of the venue, and posters etc made every ticket sold a chip away at just the costs. People just didnt come in large enough numbers to make it worthwhile.
The show wins awards, gets reviews from heaven and yet has takings that a busker would be embarrassed with.
So is it me. Am I just some ego fuelled twat with a narcissistic agenda of doing whatever he pleases. Maybe. Fuck. Am I? Fortunately this job brings you down to earth on a regular basis. The thrill of a great gig is easy to forget when the attendance at your one man show is so poor.
Im waffling away here. The whole purpose of this was to be an “Open letter to the people of South Africa” I was asking for some support.
Im not asking for cash. Not money. Im not a beggar. Im an artist. A performer, a story teller.
If I won awards as a plumber you would pay me huge sums of money.
But my awards as an artist and just the reason to ignore me
When you in town again?
Oh please let us know.
What time is the show?
When are you on?
How do I get there?
We will come tomorrow
Sorry I forgot
Folks. It is this simple. Im not using this as a threat. Im using this as a plea! Im asking you. In large numbers. People who do not go to comedy shows. You. Yes you. Exactly you. The person reading this. You. You are important. It is you that chooses what to watch. Im asking you, to please buy tickets for my show.
It will cost you a little bit more than going to the cinema to see my show. (not if you have popcorn and a soda) By doing so, you will be enabling a person to live. To earn his living doing his job proudly. I just want to write and perform. But it seems that the mentality of South African audiences are someone biased towards regionalism and conformity.
Which brings me to a good old fashioned beef. The lack of support. The number of gigs I have done where people said afterwards, Oh I will watch it the next time you are here. Next time? There is a point where there will be no more next time. It is not financially viable to travel about and not sell tickets.
I worked as a freelance dj recently for a station in the Western Cape. I will omit their name for legal reasons. They gave me 100% anti-help with my show. Not one single bit of assistance towards it. Nothing. I asked them for interviews and some support. Nothing. Not one of them came to watch it, not one of them mentioned it. Nothing. That is the kind of support I came to expect from them. Now is this me being sour, or is this because I am not married to one of the managers or the station or something? Why do some comics get all the help and the others nothing?
Maybe it was the name of the show? Maybe it was the agenda of the station, Maybe it was just a case of “couldnt give a toss”.
If a radio station, I as a stand up comedian works at, cannot have the time to give me a little career boost with their massive audience, then who can? Its time I lead the way and did my own thing SA.
Im going away for a few months. To write. To think, to relax and to try and come to terms with what is happening. I am not quitting. This isn’t a job. This is my life. If my life means me moving to where it is sustainable and appreciated. Then that is where I will go. I will go somewhere where my skill-set or talent (whatever that is) will be of use. Where I can earn an income doing just stand up. Not having to troll about in commercials or corporate jobs. Not to have to cast for film roles that suck dick but at least pay rent money, to not have to worry about my worth. Im quite confident in who I am. Im just not confident I am in the right place.
Essentially I need some appreciation. Something more than a good review and a “well done”
I need people to attend my shows. That is all.
Im coming to Johannesburg to do my solo show this week. Ticket sales are non existent. Lots of people ask me when Im performing. Nobody comes. This is my last gig. Im now bowing out like the Parlotones. Nobody could drag out going overseas more than they have.. But then they are only leaving as they have bled this country dry of money. I am however, near enough skint.
I need people to come to my show this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
I am performing at the lovely Pop Art venue on Arts on Main. It isn’t a big room. But it needs support. I need the support. I need people to book. Are there not 300 in Johannesburg that want to watch me? Can I not get that level of support from a city of that magnitude. I believe I can.
If people do not book, then I don’t know what the answer is. Where do I go from here. Do I give up? Do I find another way. Really. I need your help.
The show is good. It just needs an audience.
Please support my show. It is supporting more than just my ego.