Standing up for comedy
Jamaicans have long been regarded as great story-tellers and naturally funny people. Against this background we have seen the rise of several comedians who have caused a bellyfuls of laughter in theatre, at stand-up shows and, more recently, through entertaining skits on social media.
Certainly, those who pursue comedy as a career do make a living from being funny. Nevertheless, as simple as it might seem, the comedy space is far more serious, and when looking at popular greats, such as Kat Williams, Dave Chapelle, Richard Pryor, and more, it begs the question, does it pay to be funny in Jamaica, and what can be done to take local comedy to an international level.
Speaking with The Gleaner, Christopher ‘Johnny’ Daley who has been in the business for more than 15 years, said Jamaica will have to produce its first great comedic mega celebrity, with crossover potential and content.
“In terms of packing out stadiums, we are getting there, but until we have like a Jamaican superstar that is going to take a while. You know like you have the superstars like Popcaan and the those coming up who have crossed over. But our (comedians) kind of crossover is like cross over to the diaspora,” he said.
Daley who operates Johnny Live Comedy Bar, which has an open mic night every Tuesday, said that another major challenge is that comedy is treated with a lot less regard than music.
“It is not even only about the comics, but also the Jamaican people giving the genre a chance. Because for us, entertainment is music. So the struggle for comics and people like me who have been in the business for many years is just to continue to promote the culture of comedy which I have been doing for many years, almost 15 to 20 years. But I am at a point now where the progress that is happening is because I have been consistent,” he reasoned.
Still, comedy in Jamaica has made great strides, and Daley believes it is moving into the right direction.
“For the first time comedians have a place to work where every single week we can come together and gather, discuss comedy and criticise each other positively and then grow,” said Daley.
Adding to the conversation is Dale ‘Diego – The cross-eyed Villain’ McKay who believes Jamaica simply does not have the audience to support comedy to the fullest.
“We need to find a way to get to Netfilx, even if one Jamaican can bring it to a level. My aim one day is to enter America’s Got Talent or some talent show over there. Even if I don’t win it then the world will now know that there is a Jamaican stand-up comedian then from that platform we can reach out to those networks,” reasoned Diego, who got his break in comedy through performances at Johnny’s Comedy Bar Open Mic Night some three years ago.
He continued, “Stand-up comedy is different from the comedy on social media where people can just edit a video, get it right and post it. You get to do whatever you like with it. Stand-up now is going on the stage – just you the mic and the audience on the spot. So right now is mostly corporate drawn to it and how much of Jamaica is corporate. Jamaica does not have enough people to give the comedy the right support so we will have to tap into outside markets.” .
Currently, he said just hitting the stage with your material is not enough to create generational wealth.
“For most comedians, how we survive is not just comedy shows. We survive by when companies keeping their events and we go in because they realise that this thing takes intelligence. But this is not enough to say ‘yes mi secure a family wealth to say yes mi make my lifetime money and my pickney lifetime money and their children’s lifetime money,” he revealed.