Kurt Schoonraad, the owner of the Cape Town Comedy Club in the V&A Waterfront, still cannot believe that the place has been named among the Top 10 comedy clubs in the world.
“We never thought that we would end up on the list with some of those names, some of the clubs where Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and George Carlin were regulars – on a list with some of those places is quite an accomplishment; it’s fabulous.”
He said the Cape Town Comedy Club had garnered a lot of respect over the years, both locally and internationally. “The sound and light are world-class, and you feel it and that is what the critics felt when they came.
“That night they came, it was fabulous. They enjoyed the comfort food, the kind of thing that you can eat without a knife and fork. We try to keep it very interesting, although it is difficult to balance a world-class venue and a world-class show and try to keep it affordable, but I think that’s part of the secret. That’s what puts bums on seats.”
About a month ago, travel writer Tim Richards ran an article in an Australian newspaper, recognising the Cape Town Comedy Club as a top international venue, along with Comedy Masala in Singapore, The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and The Stand in Edinburgh, to name a few.
“We’re one of three comedy clubs in the country,” said Mr Schoonraad. “We are the only comedy club in the Western Cape. Nobody does what we do. There is also no other comedy club in South Africa mentioned in the Top 10. That’s quite an accolade.”
The Cape Town Comedy Club has grown since it started 11 years ago, said Mr Schoonraad. When they had just started, they had pop-up events around Cape Town. However, they were “semi-permanently” stationed at the Albert Hall in Woodstock, and then moved to the River Club in Observatory, where the club was called Jou Ma Se Comedy Club.
“Jou Ma Se Comedy Club developed a huge underground following. Then when we moved to the Waterfront we had to create a mainstream and more commercial space than we had before.”
He said the venue which they moved to was fitting for a comedy club, because sight lines were important. “You can’t have pillars, so you need a building that’s fairly open and well dispersed. The Pumphouse was the perfect fit.”
Apart from the fact that the Pumphouse was a good open space, it also has a history of entertainment. “It is arguably the oldest building in the Waterfront, and this room has also been a lot of iconic venues over the last 40 years. The Pumphouse was a big party venue in the 90s, it was the Dock Road theatre, which was David Kramer’s room, and had some iconic acts that came through the door for the time it was around – and Planet Hollywood was next door, we all know how iconic that was…”
He said the V&A Waterfront was also a part of the Cape Town Comedy Club’s success.
“They realised very early what we bring to the party. We are the only live venue in the Waterfront, except the Amphitheatre, but we are all-year round.”
He believes that the Waterfront was the only place that could host the comedy club the way in which they needed. And while he was thrilled to have the club mentioned on the Top 10 list of comedy clubs in the world, the primary aim was to “showcase South African comedy in its best context and in the space it deserves, with good quality comedians and a willing audience”.
“What I am particularly proud of is who we attracted. We bring in everyone from 13-year-olds to 90-year-olds, of all colours, races, creeds, backgrounds and religions. On any given night, 30 to 40 percent of this room is foreign.” The venue holds 180 people, and every night, the venue is packed, said Mr Schoonraad.
“If you haven’t been to a comedy club before, you should klap yourself. There’s a vibe when 180 people are laughing at the same time. It’s the kind of thing people write songs about.”
Over the years, said Mr Schoonraad, the Cape Town Comedy Club, has uncovered many a diamond in the rough and so, to provide a platform for up-and-coming comedians, the club holds an open mic slot every night.
“The open mic is designed for younger comedians cutting their teeth, and to rub shoulders with the more experienced and famous guys.
“The best way to do comedy is to watch a pro do it. Also, to keep my business sustainable, I need the biggest comedy gene pool I can find so we do a competition once a year through which we try to extract as many rough diamonds and give them a platform and close-up training.”
He said all the comedians they have invested time in over the years still perform at the club.
“We have invested in a lot of comedy, a lot of young people and community building in the entertainment industry.
“This is how you earn your stripes, this is how you get your feathers and earn respect.”
Asked about the latest trends in comedy, Mr Schoonraad said: “The same things are always trendy – people’s emotions. Anything people get emotional about, that’s what’s going to be top of the list. Technology is big, and the political arena all over the planet is unstable, such as the orange guy (Donald Trump).
“It’s a fantastic time for comedy. We have so much to talk about. We’ve got so many cultures in South Africa. We’ve got 11 official languages to invest in. Imagine if we printed stop signs in 11 official languages…
“There’s a lot going on and what’s trending, changes daily. I learn new things every day. I’m finding out what ‘woke’ means. Someone told me, ‘Damn it was woke bru!’ as I walked off stage…’It was lit!’ And said,’Thanks?’”
The Cape Town Comedy Club will be open seven days a week during the festive season.