'Blakka' quitting stand-up, no joke
Published: Sunday | April 12, 2009
Owen 'Blakka' Ellis will perform his last stand-up comedy piece on April 29 at Backyaad. - File
On April 29, on the small stage at Backyaad at Constant Spring Road, St Andrew the larger-than-life comedian, Owen 'Blakka' Ellis, will take his final bow after 24 years of stand-up comedy.
One of the most well-known comedic entertainers in the Caribbean, Ellis recently announced his retirement from the field that projected him into the international spotlight. A professional writer, teacher and actor, Ellis has been a jack of all trades, having written songs for singer Judy Mowatt and created performance material for fellow comedians Oliver Samuels, Tony Hendriks, and Ity and Fancy Cat.
With an easy comedic style that always gets his listeners thinking as well as laughing, Ellis has evoked giggles to belly-wrenching laughter, and even tears, from audiences across the globe. However, the veteran farceur told The Sunday Gleaner he was simply tired of stand-up comedy.
Communicating via email, Ellis elaborated saying that he no longer enjoys the stand-up art and wants to make time for the fulfilling work of writing, directing and producing.
Ellis says Christopher Daley (pictured) reminds him of himself.
Ellis got his unexpected start on the stand-up stage in 1985 as part of the duo Bello and Blakka with Winston Bell. He explained, "At the time I saw myself as a performance poet and Bello was a promising singer and actor. We were rehearsing for a show as a poet and singer. I planned a poem called 'Real Raw Reality' and Bello had a song called No More War, and we would blend them. But after watching our rehearsal, Honor Ford-Smith (Jamaican actress, playwright, scholar and poet) convinced us to do something funny instead, because the show already had too much heavy stuff. That was the beginning."
Since then, there has been many great moments in the comedian's career, including interacting with the great Jamaican actress, Louise Bennett-Coverley. For Ellis, though, the most memorable moment of his career was the first time he performed with Bell to a packed stadium of more than 15,000 persons in Trinidad. Other stand-outs include performing at the Apollo Theatre in New York and doing a television special for Channel 4 in London.
MAKE PEOPLE THINK
Residing in Canada, Ellis said he would continue teaching, writing, producing, studying and learning during his 'retirement'.
"As a motivational speaker, I can make people think and change and laugh. As a comic I'll make them laugh a lot, but will they think?" Ellis said. "I will put effort into organising ACE - the Association of Comedic Entertainers - and run workshops for upcoming comics." Ellis will also be working alongside Ity and Fancy Cat as a writer/consultant and will be involved in producing comedy shows.
Having performed at Reggae Sunsplash, the Apollo Theatre in New York, The Hackney Empire in London, major comedy festivals in Toronto and toured France as a percussionist and a backing vocalist for dub poet, Oku Onuora, and his band AK7, there are hardly any comedians that can fill Ellis' well-travelled shoes. When asked which comedian he believes would follow in his steps, Ellis stated, "I feel Ity and Fancy Cat is the biggest thing in local comedy right now. But in terms of style and content and capacity, Christopher 'Johnny' Daley is the solo performer that reminds me of me and promises to be greater than I can ever be."
Feeling at peace with his decision and awaiting his final show, which is appropriately on a Jamaican stage, Ellis said his greatest contribution to the art has been pushing other comedians to do their best. "I introduced people to overseas promoters, recommended them highly and held their hands backstage. I helped comics create bios, negotiate deals and shape their materials, and I created a company (Ellis International) that has consistently given comedians good-paying work for four years," said Ellis.