Martin Evans on the 'bizarre beast' that is stand-up comedy

Martin Evans. (Supplied)

Martin Evans. (Supplied)

After watching footage of Martin Evans’s stand-up sets, I did not like the guy. I didn’t appreciate his smug gripes about affirmative action; that his Yamaha Zuma scooter sounded like it screamed “rape” each time he revved it; or his jibes about the levels of crime in South Africa.

There was a sense that he was keenly aware of his audiences’ sensibilities - be they in Observatory or in Tavistock - and was doing the requisite amount of pandering to keep them with him.

But there was something to be said of his craftiness, the way he easily flitted between improvised haranguing of the punters to a poised, yet racy delivery of his gags.

“I will say it differently pretty much every night for the longevity of that piece of material,” said Evans of his approach.
“I need to enjoy expressing it. I’ve seen where comedians have been heckled with nothing other than their own jokes and it’s like, ‘Whoa, you’ve done that shit too much.’”

Evans, along with Ava Vidal, Gino Fernandez, Lungelo Ndlovu and Devin Gray will participate in a Comedy Central special being filmed at the Cape Town Comedy Club tonight.

“For me to write something is petrifying, which is why the Comedy Central special makes me nervous,” said Evans. “I’m not a comedian who does the same set twice. One of its cons is how that is captured to a live audience. They know when shit is off the cuff. With a pre-recorded show, you don’t capture that aspect.”

Evans is something of a journeyman when it comes to comedy. His career kicked off in earnest in England, where between 2004 and 2007, he slogged hard to make his name known until the right kind of agents got him the right kind of shows.

“Stand-up comedy is a bizarre beast to make a living from,” he said. “You’ve gotta start somewhere and how you start often is like a sacrifice because you’re not going to get paid. Not only are you not going to get paid, you’re not going to get to Manchester to do a show at this venue, where if it goes well it might mean a booking sometime [in] the future.”

Evans’s consistency has led to other career opportunities such as commercial spots and stints on radio, film and television. “All these have been things that I have been able to do in Cape Town, where perhaps in a big city like London or New York, you get to [do] one of those things, not all of them,” he said.

To get out of his comfort zone, Evans often travels, doing shows even in countries where English is not the first language.

Speaking about the travails (and the ceiling) of working as a comedian in South Africa. Evans said his only fear about his chosen path in this country is that “You get comedians that end up like an old footballer that didn’t make the money… For their own sanity and their own piece of mind they need to be enjoying retirement but they end up doing shitty-ass club gigs because they need a couple of grands in their pockets because they don’t have medical aid.”

At the age of 41, Evans is somewhat of an elder statesman in the game, who feels that comedians, whether they are being compassionate or assholes, are not addressing social issues particularly well. “We have lagged behind opportunities and we are being lazy. We still are. But shit is changing and this country is going through some dynamic things at the moment.”

Comedy Central Presents Martin Evans Live at Cape Town Comedy Club will be taped by Comedy Central for broadcast on the channel tonight. The highlights  will be broadcast on Comedy Central at 21:05 CAT on April 25. Tickets are available at R220 from Computicket.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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