Giant of comedy is not a joke
From the outside looking in, one can surmise that the four individuals who make up comedy juggernaut Goliath and Goliath are bold dreamers and precise executors. It’s in the way they articulate aspects of their modus operandi, as if in pitch mode, all the while joking about the service at a Melville restaurant and eating each other’s breakfast.
Kate, Jason, Nicholas (all related) and Donovan Goliath are the people behind the behemoth that is doing its bit to accelerate the ubiquity of stand-up comedy.
Active as a unit since 2012, the company continues to grow the scale of its involvement in comedy, with the second Goliath Comedy Experience taking place until June 9 at the Goliath Comedy Club in Johannesburg’s Melrose Arch.
The event kicked off on Wednesday with a rendition of the now legendary Awednesday. This is a line-up show that dates back to 2012. It celebrates the coloured experience and pioneered a strategy for the group to “bring comedy to the people as opposed to bringing the people to comedy”, as Donovan puts it.
“For all the years that we ran it, the price remained R50,” says Kate Goliath, who handles bookings, marketing and PR. “We would fit 300 people in a 200 people venue and have a jam until 3 o’clock in the morning on a Wednesday. It was like coming together in a different way. We weren’t going out clubbing but we were coming together to connect over our stories.”
This single-minded focus on expanding the comedy circuit has seen Goliath and Goliath win the Best Friends of Comedy each of the three times the award has been handed out at the Comics’ Choice awards.
Judging from the number of times they mention this during an hour-long interview in Melville, it is a badge of honour, a symbol of their belief in comedians as colleagues rather than as rivals.
A case in point is the eagerness with which Jason seeks to clarify their pulling out of their Braamfontein venture, an underground-style comedy club that turned out to be inconsistent with the trajectory of their brand.
“Not only have we given it to [comedian and event organiser] Sifiso Nene, but we have given him an assisted deal,” says Jason, the Goliath tasked with ensuring the group’s ventures are profitable. “We identified the room as the perfect room for comedy but not the perfect room for our market in terms of access in the evenings in Braamfontein.
“Sifiso has been running comedy stations independently at different venues. That’s why it was an obvious thing to chat to him about the opportunity to have a formalised process.”
Earlier, by phone, Kate had put a slightly different spin on things, alluding that the Braamfontein venue may prove to be popular with a demographic seeking out vernacular comedy. Whatever the case, it seemed that, from the calculated manner in which the Goliaths are accustomed to doing business, Braamfontein’s student market was not yielding the expected growth.
“The lessons I have learnt in my life is that businesses fail because somebody within the business is scared to make the hard decisions,” says Jason.
The Goliath Comedy Club in Melrose Arch is a 50/50 partnership with The Venue owner and venture capitalist Tony Raciti. Kate says they were approached by Melrose Arch to partner in the venture when the opportunity arose in 2016.
“We have worked hard on our work ethic and reputation in order to get that recommendation,” says Kate. With the club in Melrose Arch, and indeed their other ventures such as the Awe Mzansi tour and The Box (which operates every Sunday evening for the cover charge of R50), the Goliaths have managed, variously, to corporatise comedy while helping to carve a blueprint for the systematic expansion of its ecosystem.
The crew is currently putting the finishing touches to a nine-stop nationwide tour of three of the Goliaths, which may include other comedians. They hope to parlay it into a replicable circuit for other talent to plug into.
“Managing it is a tough process, but fortunately we have Kate, whose job it is to clear our diaries, move things around, because we often get booked eight, nine or 10 months in advance,” says Donovan. “A lot of conversations have to happen with clients to shift things around.
“The biggest lesson we have learnt is how hungry the small towns are for comedy. One of the problems with being in Johannesburg is that you often think you are successful and doing well if you are only performing in Jo’burg. When you go out there and people don’t know you and they have only seen you on TV, the love you get is unmatched to Jo’burg, where people are used to this kind of thing.”
Jason explains that, even though the upcoming tour, planned for September to December, has the potential backing of a sponsor, there is still a great deal of number crunching and tweaking involved in each market to ensure sustainability. “Because there’s not a lot of disposable income, ticket prices barely cover the cost,” he says.
“If you see a tour happening without a sponsor, and more than one person in a line-up, those tours are awareness and marketing tours; they are not profitable unless there are sponsors on board. Even local travel in South Africa is expensive.
“So, with us, even our next tour is not a tour that is supposed to be profitable; it’s just us wanting to put our stories across the nation in the faces of different people.”
What the tour should yield is data and a cost structure to enable the route to yield an income stream for others. “We’ll do all the reading and the data then send other one-man shows into the same circuit until we have a show in every town in every month.”
Although Goliath and Goliath’s expansionism and ambition know no bounds, their approach is always focused on the collective health of South Africa’s comedy scene. On June 9, as part of the Goliath Comedy Experience, the company will host a comedy conference, bringing together comedy’s various players and powerbrokers.
For more information on this event and the entire comedy experience, visit goliathandgoliath.com