Are women just not funny enough?
Now in its 12th year, the Jive Cape Town Funny Festival is set to warm up the Baxter Theatre from July 11 to August 7.
But although the almost month-long comedy showcase will again bring together South Africa’s finest comedic talent and a selection of top international artists, there are no female acts in the 2016 line-up.
“I used to be sensitive to that,” says festival founder and organiser Eddy Cassar. “But it is something that could not be avoided this year.”
The event, which started in 1997 as the Smirnoff Comedy Festival, was reborn as the Jive Cape Town Funny Festival in 2004 and has grown into being the largest of its type in the country, on a par with some of the major comedy festivals hosted around the world.
The festival’s foundation is built on local stand-up acts and it also brings in international comics and cabaret performers, says Cassar.
“The Edinburgh Fringe Festival shows more than 3 000 acts a day, over 28 days, and most of these are comedy. In the last nine years I have seen them divide the comedy section even further into cabaret and circus-comedic acts.”
He adds: “We have not yet developed that aspect of comedy performance in South Africa, so I prefer to showcase local stand-up and bring in other international acts.”
Although the festival aims to “mirror the local culture and custom of Cape Town”, the lack of representation of women in the 2016 instalment cannot be overlooked (although last year’s event did feature female comics Tumi Morake and Tracy Klass).
But it is something, Cassar insists, that was inevitable, given the state of the South African and international comedy scene.
“There are simply not that many women doing comedy and audiences don’t want to see the same acts over and over again.” This despite names like Marc Lottering and Alan Committie taking to the stage under the festival’s banner year after year.
“The festival is a platform for up-and-coming acts but, at the end of the day, it needs to be commercially viable as well. And people like Marc [Lottering] are always going to bring the audiences in,” says Cassar.
Both locally and abroad, comedy remains a boys’ club, with very few female stand-up comedians drawing the audiences that their male counterparts do.
According to Cassar, the omission of female comics was not an oversight. “It was by design,” he says, adding that in putting together this year’s line-up he had hoped to include Celeste Ntuli — who is currently taking her latest show, Black Tax, on a national tour — but she was unavailable during the festival’s run.
Cassar makes no apologies for the demographics of the programme and maintains that it stays true to the essence of talent development that the festival organisers believe in.
“The likes of Yaseen Barnes, who has been an up-and-comer in the South African comedy scene for a number of years, will be taking to the stage and learning from the best in the business,” says Cassar.
“I tell young comics that all I need is their seven best minutes on stage and, after running those seven minutes every night for a month, and taking tips from the established comedians, they become true professionals.”
The festival, Cassar adds, is also an incredible platform for new talent like Barnes to get noticed by bigger audiences. “We’re launching careers. After people play our shows, they have some of their best corporate seasons and we get calls from different clients looking to book them because they’ve seen them perform at the festival.”
It is in the hands of industry veterans like Cassar to open those doors. But perhaps it is comedians like Ntuli and Cape Town-based Angel Campey – who has already had a successful run in New York City and is on her way back there in the next few months – who will pioneer their own paths and have the last laugh.
Tickets for the Jive Cape Town Funny Festival are R170 from Computicket. For more details, visit eddycassarpr.co.za