Durban Invades The Comic’s Choice Awards

Durban comedian Tyson Heffer hit up the annual Comic’s Choice Awards on the 3rd of September and fills us in on the rise of Durban comedy.


Durban Comedians on the Yellow Carpet - Image courtesy of Jess Knauf

Durban Comedians on the Yellow Carpet – Image courtesy of Jess Knauf


“There are two things that people fear most: dying and public speaking. If you are a stand-up comedian, you get to do both!”


There are very few people that are willing to get up in front of a bunch of strangers and tell jokes. How many is a few? Well, take the 187 comedians that registered for The Savanna Comics Choice Awards, and add another handful of people on the underground comedy scene that couldn’t give a shit about accolades. What you end up with is around 250 people out of a possible 30 odd million (not counting people under the age of 16 or over 60) in South Africa who have the balls to engage in this peculiar and eccentric art form. That is 1 in every 120,000 people! So what better way to celebrate these mad folk than at “The Grammys of Comedy in South Africa”?


The first CCA took place in 2011 and is the brainchild of John Vlismas and Taffia Keight. In previous years the majority of nominees and winners were from Joburg, with a select few coming from Cape Town. At first, I thought us Durban comics didn’t stand a chance because there was a clique that we were not a part of. After all, the majority of the country’s comedians never get to see our performers! After a chat with Kagiso Lediga (winner of this year’s Comics Pen Award), I realised that it was because Joburg and Cape Town is where shit actually happens!


Over the last 12 months, shit has started to happen on the Durban scene. There has been an exponential increase in the number of comedy shows being organized as well as an equal increase in the number of new and amateur comics that fill up the open slots. This is paired with the fact that more of the well known Joburg and Cape Town acts are being brought down to perform in front of laughter hungry crowds, that barely existed a few years prior.


Back in 2006, comics would be lucky to do 10 shows a year. Currently there are over 10 shows a month, which bears testimony to the fact that it was only a matter of time before the Durban scene started to get some recognition. This is what made this year’s CCA so exciting: the recognition had arrived.


Voting closed on the 1st of July and everyone was anxious to see who the nominees were. I was ecstatic to find out that our very own On Fire Comedy (Jem Atkins and Jess Knauf), the major organisers of comedy shows in Durban, had been nominated for The Best Friend of Comedy Award. Then on top of that, Carvin H Goldstone had been nominated for The Comic of the Year Award. This is an award that has been won by Trevor Noah in previous years, and so to have one of our homegrown comedians elevate themselves to the same pedigree was nothing short of awe-inspiring!


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Johannesburg was beckoning, and Durban comedians heeded it’s call. We arrived at Monte Casino and made our way to the Teatro (which is Spanish for Theatre, go figure). We were greeted by a stream of press and paparazzi along the red carpet… which was yellow. If I didn’t know that Savanna sponsored the event, I would have expected to see Dorothy Gale come skipping along with Tin Man, Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion. One does feel rather important while having their picture taken by more than 5 people at a time, but the feeling soon faded when we were moved along in a cattle like fashion to the other end of the line.


Photo courtesy of Mohammed Vawda

Photo courtesy of Mohammed Vawda



The ceremony was executed so well, it should have been called the cere-MONEY! The skits and parodies, which were directed by Rob Van Vuuren, had the audience cackling throughout. Durban’s very own Arnotte Payne started the show dressed as an angel, singing his rendition of “Zuma pay back the money”. We were then treated to a sports newscast hilariously performed by Warren Robertson and Chris Forrest, and I was stoked when Durban got a mention for having its presence felt this year.


Arnotte Payne - Picture courtesy of Shannon Rice.

Arnotte Payne – Picture courtesy of Shannon Rice.


On top of that was the Singing Comedy Bears, which looked like Teletubbies, acted like the bouncers of the show, and sang in a quartet which had everyone in stitches! There was also a sidesplitting parody of That 70’s show acted out by Yaseen Barnes, Robbie Collins and Joey Rasdien. During the vernacular performances, I would look around to see the bemused faces of other white people while the theater ERUPTED in hysterical laughter and clapping. Whatever they were saying, I can imagine it was poes funny. I guess I will be taking Xhosa lessons in order to brush up for next year!


Then there was the after party at La Toscana, which was less than 50 meters away from The Teatro. Being able to revel with the likes of Kagiso Lediga, Donovan Goliath, Schalk Bezuidenhout and newcomer nominee Snooze Kambuwa really put the cherry on top of a superb evening. After taking full advantage of the open bar and “double parking” for most of the night, I left the die-hards at 3am while the party was still blazing.


Unfortunately our two Durban nominees did not come home with a Waldo, but they have definitely opened a door and have shown us that anything is possible. A special shout out to Tumi Morake, who made history by being the first woman to receive the prestigious Comic of the Year Award. It not only illustrates the progress that is being made by the national stand up community overall, but also the need for Durban to start cultivating more of a female presence on its stages.


The evening itself was exceptionally organised; from the R50 million in audited media value, to the ceremony and after party itself. There is a national community type vibe that is enjoyed by its participants, and the cost of getting up to the event pales in insignificance to the value received by us small town comedians. I am eager to see Durban’s footprint go up a couple of shoe sizes by next year’s event. 


Dylan Shawn, Erin Wulfsohn and Tyson Heffer (031 Entertainment Co.) -

Dylan Shawn, Erin Wulfsohn and Tyson Heffer (031 Entertainment Co.) – Picture courtesy of Shannon Rice.

Jem Atkins and Jess Knauf (On Fire Comedy) - Picture courtesy of Snannon Rice

Jem Atkins and Jess Knauf (On Fire Comedy) – Picture courtesy of Snannon Rice

Carvin H Goldstone and Jem Atkins - Picture courtesy of Jess Knauf

Carvin H Goldstone and Jem Atkins – Picture courtesy of Jess Knauf

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