Tough comedy circle to crack - Dufton Shepherd progresses one laugh at a time
Shereita Grizzle, Gleaner Writer
He has a degree in Management Information Systems, but a career in comedy was his lifelong dream. Since gaining national attention through the comedic competition Comedy Buss, Dufton Shepherd has steadily been climbing the ladders of laughter in the local industry.
A past student of Wolmer's Boy School, Shepherd told The Gleaner that since his appearance on Comedy Buss in 2008, he has had a number of bookings in the local market. Shepherd admits that he has used each show as a stepping stone and now considers himself among the best in the industry.
Getting to the place he is today, however, was never an easy feat for the comedian, who spoke openly of the tough times he has faced in the industry. "As one of the newer comedians, it has been quite a struggle. There are not many comedic avenues for you to garner the experience needed to become elite," he said. "Of the 12 finalists in my year of Comedy Buss, I am the only one who still works on a regular basis. In this economy, it is difficult to live off just being a stand-up comedian, as performances are few and sometimes far between."
Shepherd explained that the local market for stand-up comedy is small and, therefore, making it in the business means gaining the confidence of those operating in the circle. "The market for stand-up comedy is quite small, and shows are kept by the same promoters. Oftentimes, you are booked based on recommendations," he revealed.
Actor and comedian Christopher 'Johnny' Daley expressed similar sentiments during his set at the recent Let Loose comedy show at The Pegasus hotel, New Kingston. Performing to a room full of guests, Daley talked about the struggles comedians face in the industry and implored the audience to support local talent, as oftentimes their only support is each other.
Admitting to being short-changed in the business, Shepherd said more can be done to aid comedy's development as a lucrative part of Jamaica's creative industries. "Stand-up comedy in Jamaica is quite potent. I have a dream that one day our comedy will be appreciated and sought after worldwide, just as much as our music, fashion and athletics." Shepherd feels that as a result of comedy often taking a back seat, comedians have been underpaid and disregarded. "Too many times people want to short-change us because we are not 'mainstream' entertainment. But put us on a stage, give us a microphone and we will entertain thoroughly for as long as - and longer than - 'mainstream' entertainment," he said.
Despite the challenges, Shepherd believes Jamaican stand-up comedy is on the rise. "Jamaicans crave comedy in all its glory, and they are willing to pay," he said. This, he believes, will be the turning point for the industry, as he offered advice to young comedians. "It is hard work; and there is no quick get-rich route. You put in the time and effort, and you will be rewarded. Always be a student and hone your craft, and you will do great things," Shepherd urged.