David Kau’s done working for the man. And that doesn’t just mean no more nine-to-five. He probably works longer hours than that anyway.
Mr Kau is done working for anybody. “I work for myself,” he asserts firmly. He owns or co-owns several companies, which manage different parts of his multi-faceted comedy career. There’s a production and promotions company, an events company and an entertainment website that showcases and promotes his shows.
This weekend’s Blacks Only gig? Oh, that’s his brand too. “I think I must’ve MC’ed about fifty Blacks Only’s by now,” he muses. “I’ve lost count”. From being a night in Joburg, Blacks Only is now almost a rolling, cross-country roadshow.
While the comedians are mainly black these days, that doesn’t mean the promoters are. It didn’t take David long to work out what’s what, and he didn’t get up on stage so he could be exploited by some white dude smoking cigarettes at the back of the club. So today he has a personal or a financial stake in everything he does – Taxi Ride, the film he produced that’s becoming a TV series, Blitzpatrollie, the movie he’s starring in, his comedy shows, the legendary Pure Monate Show, the annual Christmas charity bashes in Kroonstad…
He’s a funny dude, but he takes his career dead serious. There’s a wife and two kids to support these days.
It feels like David Kau has been around forever. And he has, by contemporary standards. When he made his comedy debut back in 1998, it was before Idols, before Parkers Comedy & Jive, before The Sopranos, before the DA, hell, Madiba was still president! So he’s been in the stand-up game for a while, and done every kind of gig you could imagine a comic playing in this country.
“By this stage I’ve played just about every type of room you can think of,” he says. “ Corporate gigs, Chinese people, students, the NPA… I’ve performed for the president!
And what has he learnt? What have been the gleanings from that decade and a half on the road as a working comic? From when he tweaked the material from his UCT third-year drama project into a few hot minutes at the Smirnoff Comedy Festival?
“The rules of comedy? Let’s see. Firstly, respect your audience. You want them on your side. So I don’t come out abusing them. Also, don’t dumb your material down because you don’t think a crowd will understand it. Put it out there and let them tell you. Secondly, respect the venue. Stick to the time slot you’ve been given. If they’ve given you five minutes, and you’ve got a hot nine, you’ve still got to do five. Going over time is disrespectful to the venue, the organisers and your fellow comics. Thirdly, just be original – be yourself, don’t copy anyone and try have fresh material.”
The Three Comedy Commandments are gold for a noob starting out, but what you can’t teach is the intuition that only comes from hard years on the road.
“I try research what kind of audience I’m likely to get, but after a while you just develop an instinct about what’s going to work. Also, I do material that everyone can relate to. Everyone has watched Generations, they’ve all been to the bank, they know Caster Semenya… so those are good comedy references.
Not for David the obscure, self-indulgent march out on a limb and see if anyone gets it. This is mainstream comedy. The corporate gigs, the government gigs, the slapstick movies. This is the mainstream space recently vacated by the likes of Leon Schuster. The people come to be entertained, and entertained they are.
“Sometimes people come to hear the same jokes they heard the last time. Other times they want new material. So I’m always writing new stuff, but I’m also trying to gauge whether some old classics might work.”
David Kau might not be the edgiest comic south of Musina, but the mainstream has sounded a lot kakker than David Kau in days gone by, as a listen to some of comedy’s “elder statesmen” will reveal.
Often overlooked in David’s “first black comic” hype is how young he was starting out. Dude was 20! So his revolution was as much generational as cultural. Has he found audiences changing over time?
“Ja. A lot of them have grown up with me, so I don’t have to overthink it. What I find funny, they will find funny. But the new generation is different – they speak a lot of English, less vernac, their lives are fine, and they have no interest in politics.”
Upon such sociological observations are comedy sets built. And it’s that ability to observe accurately that makes a good comic.
This man currently finds himself at the epicentre of a comedy nexus where promotion, performance, movie production and acting cross paths profitably. So he must be a pretty good observer.
It’s good to be king, but Kau doesn’t see it like that. For him, the SA comedy scene is an overlapping set of alliances and it’s impossible to succeed alone, without the other guys. David Kau is master of his own financial and artistic destiny, but he plans to succeed with his crew.
“I’d like to try do some more movies. That’s what Kagiso (Lediga) and I wanted to do all those years ago. It’s taken us 18 years to get to a place where we can actually make them happen, so we’re gonna keep going!”
This piece first appeared on Mahala.
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