Top comedian Carl Joshua Ncube says Zimbabweans use laughter as one of the ways to deal with many problems they encounter as a result of the political and economic crisis in the country.
Ncube (CJN), an award-winning entertainer, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that as a result, the country had produced outstanding comedians that were making waves across the world.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: Carl, you have had an amazing life. Comedy Central Africa has named you one of Zimbabwe’s finest comedians. CNN African Voices has called you the new face of Zimbabwean comedy. What does this mean to you?
CJN: It is a great validation for the work that went into comedy. Like yesterday we were just going through what it took to do a comedy show and I am celebrating 10 years.
So we had police reports and police clearances that we had to do.
There is one document with the police, which said he never paid for his previous bill, we are not approving it, only to realise they meant Edgar Langeveldt.
So they thought every comedian was the same person.
Being able to have exported comedy has been a great thing.
I like the quote by CNN that says, “the new face of Zimbabwean comedy”, I think I have become more like the old.
All the things in the field and there are much newer faces that are travelling the world and doing comedy.
We have Q Dube who is in South Africa, Kudakwashe Rusike who goes by the George Kuda, Alfred Kainga who is in the US, Simba Kakora and Toy Tesla.
TN: There is a large group of Zimbabweans who stand up to be comedians out there?
CJN: Absolutely. Comedy is one thing that we have successfully exported and it is growing.
It is almost a validation as well of what is happening in Zimbabwe.
We always say they allow you to do comedy in Zimbabwe — that is usually the parameter that they use.
Lately, it has been a lot better to do comedy because I have been on the run for a year.
TN: You are a TED fellow and the very influential Quads magazine publication has put you on their list of the most innovative Africans and again, amazing accolades for you.
CJN: Innovation has always been one of the coolest things about being Zimbabwean.
It comes from a difficult place, but that is what pushes us to do things differently.
We have had to do shows where there is no cash in the market and so we have had to get sponsorship to pay for SMS and SMSes are used as tickets.
It is a complicated thing, but I have to explain it to people outside there that you do not just do comedy where you just walk in.
TN: Laughter is an amazing release. Lord Brown once said always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine. I love comedy because it makes me relax and puts me in a good space. Does it have the same effect on you?
CJN: It is a little bit different, comedians are very depressed people and that is because most of the times we internalise things.
I think we are journalists first, we internalise everything that is happening in the world, absorb all that information, then you have to find a way in which the regular person can understand this information without feeling as depressed as the news itself.
You have to find if something is happening, if there is poverty, hunger or war.
Imagine for a comedian you have to absorb that, hide it and then try to tell an interesting thing about those things that make people laugh about it and discuss later in a more acceptable manner.
TN: When we experience you as being funny, you are actually internally not being funny?
CJN: You are dealing with some very difficult issues. My comedy deals with race and tribalism.
It comes from very painful childhood experiences, but it has to communicate my identify as being Zimbabwean.
A lot of it is very heavy, but that is released when you see people laugh. That is the payoff for the comedian,but you have to go back to the issue again.
TN: Someone once said do not take life seriously, you will never get out of it alive and reading your biography at some point I stopped and said this guy’s life is very funny. This cannot be real. Do you go through your life saying to yourself you are a comedian, your life needs to be funny, how do you go through life?
CJN: Life for me has always been about perspective. Let us look at Zimbabwe, for example, right now people are complaining about a lot of things and are quite justified — the power issues, broadband is expensive, food issues that are happening, but you have to remember that when this country was colonised there was no road, no internet, there were diseases that are unmentionable, yet a certain group of people still came and saw an opportunity to take over land from the people that were currently residing in there using any means or force.
I look at this chapter also in Zimbabwe as the same thing, a barren land with only opportunities that are available.
If there is no internet, then I believe there is an opportunity for it; if there are no publications, then there is an opportunity to engage and figure out a way forward.
TN: You are looking at Christ as presenting an opportunity?
CJN: Absolutely. I believe there are a few of us that have the ability and responsibility [to know]if you make an observation you have an obligation.
I feel if you have seen an opportunity to be able to do some good, then you must resource everything to be able to do that for the many that will benefit
Comedy, for example, Zimbabwe was in a very fractured state for some time, so me coming into comedy was a tonic, it was deliberate, for people to have an outlet, escapism to laugh at some of the problems that we had. In a big way I believe it did contribute to people’s state of mind because if you look right now, Zimbabweans have a way of dealing with issues using comedy, in a way that you have never seen happening in any other country.
TN: Sometimes I say to myself that tendency to laugh with our problems has tended to overtake our ability to provide solutions for the problems because we are always making fun of our problems and we are not taking our life problems seriously. What do you say about that?
CJN: I totally agree. When humour is a form of escapism and you do not know that is what you are doing, then it becomes a problem, it is almost a psychotic condition.
However, for me I have an understanding that my humour comes from a place of fear.
While I was on the run, afraid of people coming to my house, I used that to tell stories but at the same time came up with a business model so my audiences could pay for it.
A lot of the times if you do not know that you are in a form of escapism, then you are using that tool in an incorrect way.
TN: We could find ourselves in that escapism using humour and get paralysed in a way?
CJN: Exactly because you are meant to use the humour, it is therapy, you come up with it, then you generate a solution because sometimes looking at your problems causes you to get very angry, then humour causes you to escape.
These are two parallels here and in the middle one has to come back to reality and say let me just be cynical about this, but let me go back to solving an actual problem.
TN: You have spoken about your childhood and upbringing. Your late father Charles Ncube was Ndebele, your mother Miriam Chaganda was Shona. Tell me about your upbringing and these two beautiful people who brought you to life.
CJN: They existed in a time that was very difficult.
They had to handle cultural differences and unfortunately it never worked out for them.
They had to split when I was five years, but that is when I began to understand the cultures a lot more because I had a perspective of my Shona relatives who would have things to say, for example, about my dad, and my dad’s family would have things to say about my mom’s side.
I never found myself identifying with either being Shona or Ndebele, I grew up most of my life thinking I was “coloured” (mixed race) because my father was very light in complexion.
We lived in Southwold, which is predominantly a mixed race area.
Later, I then found out I was black, that already was a culture shock for me to deal with, but primarily I saw it as a form of expression of communication.
In my comedy you would hear me make jokes about Shona people, and Ndebele people would describe me as being tribalist.
If you watch my audiences you will see. people start to interact on a different level.
Even when I talk about white and black people, you will find my audiences start to talk to each other in some real conversations and questions.
l “In Conversation With Trevor is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. Please get your free YouTube subscription to this channel” The conversations are sponsored by Titan Law.