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Kainga carves out life from laughter

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UNITED STATES-BASED Zimbabwean comedian, Alfred Kainga, last weekend returned home after 16 years to perform for the first time before his home crowd after venturing onto the Dallas Comedy Scene in 2006 and turning professional in 2010.

The married father of two has worked on major stages and elite comedy clubs such as the Improv Comedy Clubs across the US, World Famous Laugh Factory in Los Angeles and many others. He was described by comedian, Kevin Hart as having the “it” factor during a Comedy Central television programme Hart of the City. NewsDay Lifestyle reporter, Precious Chida (ND), caught up with Kainga (AK) after his debut performance at Reps Theatre and spoke at length. Here are the excerpts…

ND: You have been in the comedy circuit for 12 years. Why is this the first time you are performing in your home country?

AK: We actually tried to do a show a few years ago, but the logistics didn’t work out. I got booked for other shows and a lot of things came up. However, I have been wanting to come and perform here for a long time because when I started comedy, my biggest dream was to perform in front of my friends and family and I am happy that I am here now.

ND: How was the adrenalin rush like ahead of your debut performance on home soil?

AK: It was really crazy. When I got off the plane, I could not believe that I was really here. We had been talking about this for months and it finally came through, so I was pumped, excited and nervous at the same time.

ND: A lot of people believe it’s not an easy thing to get other people to laugh as a profession. What has been your experience?

AK: Well, I guess that’s because they are not comedians. Every comedian believes they can make people laugh, even the unfunny ones.

ND: Have you been following the local comedy industry and what have been your impressions?

AK: I have been following and as a matter of fact I had two guys with me on the show who are local, Q Dube and Long John, who are really funny guys. They are up and coming and they really do work on their craft. I also like other local comedians like Chigubu and Doc Vikela. So I am watching them and they are growing and I just wish we had a real comedy club in the country where comedians can come and do real comedy shows and the audience can come and enjoy.

ND: There is a school of thought that many comedians resort to laughter as a way of hiding their own pain, what do you say about that?

AK: I have always been a clown since I was in primary school. I have always liked to joke around. People say comedy comes from a dark place, but that doesn’t apply to me because I am already dark, not light skinned, so I should be very funny since I’m dark like this. My comedy comes from a good place and I will be just having fun.

ND: What would you say have been some of the unforgettable moments in your journey as a comedian?

AK: I have both good and bad memories. The negative unforgettable moment was when I did this other show in my early years. I was booked to do a show in-between a country band concert, it was really terrible because I got on stage and these country fans were not ready to hear my comedy and that became the only show (where) I got booed and my manager had to turn off the microphone. The show ended in seven minutes. The best moment for me was when I filmed Hart of the City with Kelvin Hart on Comedy Central, which was monumental for me. It felt amazing.

As a kid who came out of Africa with a dream, I never expected that to happen to me. I never thought a superstar, who is mega, when it comes to comedy, would pick me and say you are really funny and we want to showcase your talent to the world that was really big for me. I was the only African on that show, so I felt that I was not only carrying my comedy but my country.

ND: What was the “take-away” for you from that experience?

AK: That anything is possible. If you believe it you can achieve anything. I was able to make big time comedians and producers laugh so I know I am in the right direction.

ND: How long does it normally take you to fully capture the attention of the audience when on stage?

AK: I have to capture them the moment I walk on that stage, I have a few seconds to make a very good first impression so whether it’s the way I walk or the way I look at them or interact with them it starts from right there.

ND: You are known as the “Alleycat”. Can you tell us more about that?

AK: The first manager that I had back then thought it could be a good idea to have a stage name, which was not my full name, so she just came up with the Alleycat and there it was but there was no meaning attached to it. A lot of people still call me that even after all these years, but I stopped using that name five years ago.

ND: What kind of challenges have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

AK: In stage work there are a lot of challenges. There is need to find the right people to be in your team, the logistics, and there are so many things that happen behind the scenes. You need to make sure that your flights are taken care of, hotel bookings and making show that your calendar is set throughout the year. So, it’s a lot of work because it’s a business just like any other. But the biggest challenge that I used to have was just getting the right people but I am happy that I now have them and things are just going smoothly.

ND: Have you ever considered other forms of comedy like television sitcoms?

AK: I use social media a lot. I do a lot of video skits on YouTube and Facebook, I just also got cast for a television show based in Atlanta and we have filmed already. I also did a local one recently, which is called Pachiteshi, which we did an episode with Bhutisi, and will be aired next week.

ND: You were part of the Prince Edward School arts and culture unit. How much would you say that contributed to your development as a comedian?

AK: A 100%. I honed my comedy skills at that school because the culture at Prince Edward was that they allowed us to explore what we were good at and run with it. Some people were great musicians and sportsmen and they were allowed to run with it, that’s why the school has produced great musicians, actors and sportsmen.

ND: What has been your biggest achievement in comedy?

AK: The tour that I am on right now is one of my biggest achievements, besides the Kevin Hart show. I am doing the Homecoming Tour, where I am going to different countries in Africa doing this and because Africa is home. This is pretty big for me. I am also going to continue with the tours when I go back to the States.

ND: How did you feel about the response from the people on the comedy night?

AK: Amazing. The people came out in numbers. It was a sold out show and they were laughing throughout. And to get that kind of response on my own home soil was truly a dream come true.

ND: Can you tell us just a few things that people who love your comedy don’t know about you?

AK: I love soccer and I love to eat sadza and ox trotters. I am a true sports fanatic.

ND: Having established a successful career in comedy, do you ever have moments of sadness?

AK: I am sad when I am not on stage I don’t like it when I am not working. Missing my family also makes me sad. I have been away from home for 16 years and I missed my family a lot.

ND: Zimbabweans have been grappling with unprecedented socio-economic problems. Do you think comedy can help as therapy?

AK: Without a doubt, it can, because even the Bible says there is a time for laughter, so you need that to take your mind away from the hardships. I have been to Mbare and Glen Lorne and I have seen how people (in different classes) are living. It’s hard for everybody, but at the same time we just have to keep a positive mind by laughing at some of the things that are happening. The best laughter comes from the worst things, trying to find cash can be a funny joke, so we have to make those look hilarious, so that we can look at them from a different perspective and people can go back home and face their issues.

ND: What are some the major issues that dominate your comedy?

AK: Having a good support system behind you is important. If you are doing comedy and your family doesn’t support you, it’s better to just quit because it will be very difficult. One time, my wife didn’t understand it (and) she wanted me to go to work, but now she is 100% behind me, which makes it easy because I travel a lot so my family has to be very understanding.

ND: You have been branded the King of African comedy. Do you agree with that description?

AK: No, I don’t. I would give that to Michael Blackson because he is the pioneer. When I saw him on stage at BET Comedy View in 2001, it sparked something in me and I told myself if this man is doing it I can I also do it. Blackson sells out on every show that he does. I don’t need a title because I am happy with what I am doing. I am killing it.

ND: Your parting shot?

AK: I want the comedy scene in Zimbabwe to grow. There are so many people here who need comedy, so we have to create a space for comedians, where they can go and shine. The more we do that, the better the comedy sector gets and the more comedians we get, the better the comedy gets.

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