September 10, 2017
From online television to stand-up comedy shows, female comedians are gaining notoriety and critical acclaim. Global Press Journal spoke to the stars of “The Drama Queens,” an all-female comedy show, about becoming comedians and their rise to fame.
HARARE, ZIMBABWE — A loud high five smacks through the air.
The sound of women laughing follows.
The two women on stage, Sharon “Magi” Chideu and Samantha “Gonyeti” Kureya are two of the female comics gaining popularity in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.
As the laugh dies down, the director yells “action” and the duo begins a new improv skit. This time, it’s a satirical double entendre about an old man who is caving to the realities of his advanced age.
Towards the end, Kureya reveals to Chideu that the man she is talking about is Issa Hayatou who, a few months ago, was ousted from his position as the president of the Confederation of African Football, after serving for 29 years.
The audience laughs and cheers again.
Despite the audience’s reaction, Lucky Aaroni, the show’s production manager, says they decided not to post the skit to social media, fearing it might be misinterpreted.
Comedy is an evolving art in Zimbabwe that is newly inclusive of women.
From television comedies to street theatre and skits for social media platforms, female comedians are gaining new prominence in a field once dominated by men.
Kureya and Chideu also star alongside Felistas Maruta and Tyra Chikocho in “The Drama Queens,” a comedy show for the online television channel, Bustop TV. These four local funny women sat down with Global Press Journal to talk about their new-found love of comedy and the power of the profession to help them earn significant income at a time when many others here continue to struggle against a crumbling economy.
Samantha “Gonyeti” Kureya
Since taking the stage as a stand-up comedian, Samantha “Gonyeti” Kureya has received national recognition.
Kudzai Mazvarirwofa, GPJ Zimbabwe
Kureya’s life on stage began as an actress in local plays. She says she didn’t have the courage to become a comedian until last year, when her production manager persuaded her to take the stage as a stand-up comedian.
She says her first show as a comic was nerve-wracking.
“I cried just before the show. I even got sick on my way to the show,” she says, admitting that she vomited before getting on stage. “But to my surprise people loved my performance.”
Despite her early jitters, she is already receiving wide notoriety for her comedy. In February, Kureya became the first woman to be nominated for the National Arts Merit Awards by the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe. She was nominated in the Outstanding Comedian category.
The award eventually went to a male comedian, but Kureya says she was humbled by the nomination.
“I was shocked!” she says.
Kureya completed a national stand-up comedy tour in April where she performed in front of Zimbabwe’s diverse audiences. She says adjusting comedic routines for audiences who speak different languages and dialects and span multiple generations was a challenge.
Comedy is also adding new income streams to her life.
She’s been invited to host corporate events and shoot commercials, like a recent spot for RubyLynn Make Up Artistry, a cosmetics line started by a Zimbabwean woman.
She says her dream is to see women take the lead in the once male-dominated comedy sector here.
“Women can entertain and offend just as well as men,” she says.
Felistas ‘Mai Titi’ Maruta
Online platforms allowed Felistas ‘Mai Titi’ Maruta to share her comedy, which often tackles gender and relationships.
Kudzai Mazvarirwofa, GPJ Zimbabwe
Maruta stormed into Zimbabwe’s comedy consciousness earlier this year after a video she posted on Facebook last December titled “Ndiise paprofile pic,” Shona for “Put my photo as your display picture.”
The comedic skit depicted a wife chiding her husband about why she never appeared in his social media profile photos and why he didn’t portray himself as a family man online. Bringing comedy to real life situations is her forte, she says.
“I have always been a humorous person and I thought, ‘Why not put it on Facebook like what others are doing?’” she says.
The video hit a nerve and received wide reaction. It has been viewed more than 12,000 times on YouTube and even more on Facebook. In that video, she says her career was born.
Maruta says she is more popular with female audiences because of the subjects she tackles, which have made her unpopular with some men.
“Some men don’t like me because of the things I talk about,” she says.
Recent online comedy skits tackled controversial issues like women pleasing their husbands in the bedroom and men taking on “side chicks,” a common issue for couples here.
“I usually do not respond to utterances that seem to intend to hurt feelings, but some critics are constructive,” she says of the comments she receives online.
Since her entrance into comedy several months ago, Maruta says she’s loving her new role as a comedian specializing in relationship comedy, because it’s fun and also because it pays.
Maruta makes paid appearances at bridal showers to make people laugh and to offer comedic counsel to the bride-to-be on marriage and bedroom affairs. She says she has also been invited to host weddings as the mistress of ceremony.
“I counsel people in a comic way,” she says. It’s easier to reach out to people if you are making them laugh in the process,” she said. “This is something that’s actually lucrative. Every Saturday I’m not home, I’m busy making someone laugh for a fee.”
Besides comedy, Maruta says she previously worked as a musician and a fashion designer. She holds a black belt in taekwondo too.
With some of her new-found income, she recently bought a commuter omnibus, known locally as a kombi, which can cost around $4,000 USD and generate significant income. Maruta says she’s saving for the day she stops acting in favor of becoming a pastor.
“When I become a pastor I won’t drop comedy. I will be one hell of a pastor,” she says, laughing.