Comedy Central Stars Gear Up for Festival in Johannesburg

Trevor Noah on Oregon Shooting — H 2015
Comedy Central

The inaugural event, touted as the biggest comedy festival on the African continent, will feature local comedians and such U.S. talent as Aries Spears, Hannibal Buress and Jeff Ross.

Comedy Central and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah are gearing up for the inaugural edition of a Johannesburg comedy festival that the Viacom network has been planning and that is poised to be the biggest such event in the country.

Comedy Central and partner Savanna Premium Cider joined forces to launch The Comedy Central International Comedy Festival Brought to you by Savanna, which kicks off Thursday and runs through Dec. 5 at multiple venues at the city’s Silverstar Casino. The partners struck a 3-year sponsorship deal with the ambition to continue the festival annually. 

The comedy scene in South Africa and other parts of Africa has been growing, and the selection of Noah as Jon Stewart’s successor focused added attention on it. "We are delighted to fulfill a long-held Comedy Central ambition to create an international festival here in Johannesburg that celebrates and highlights the vibrancy of the South African comedy scene - both now and for years to come," said Evert van der Veer, head of Comedy Central, Africa.

While it is not the only or first international festival related to comedy on the African continent, the Comedy Central International Comedy Festival will be the biggest comedy festival on the continent, according to the organizers. And it will be the first Comedy Central festival of its kind internationally.

Through its Viacom International Media Networks unit and its Africa arm, the entertainment conglomerate has been active in South Africa for the past decade, but has been expanding more actively as of late. It launched a localized version of BET earlier this year with pay TV giant MultiChoice.

"Funny, fearless and original, South Africa’s first Comedy Central International Comedy Festival will bring African and international comedy stars together under one roof for a hilarious, world-class celebration of comedy genius," Comedy Central promises.

The festival will combine galas with more intimate late-night shows and open mic sessions, themed specials, sketch shows, spontaneous street theatre and improv comedy "happenings." Tickets were priced from $8.50 to $46 (R120 to R650), and Comedy Central says more than 10,000 comedy fans are expected to attend shows over the six festival days and 18 separate events with 60-plus comedians.

Noah will return to his homeland to kick off the festival with gala performances on his South Africa tour, entitled "NationWild," Thursday through Saturday. Said Noah: "It's always so much fun performing with this many amazing comedians and Comedy Central Africa has done an amazing job of putting on this world-class festival."

The festival will also feature U.S. comics, such as Aries Spears, Hannibal Buress, Wil Sylvince and Comedy Central "Roastmaster General" Jeff Ross on his first-ever trip to South Africa where he will head up "The Roast Gala" on Dec. 4. Ross in an announcement quipped: "I'm so excited to be performing in South Africa for the first time that not even the vuvuzelas can drown me out."

Featured South African comedy talents include Khanyisa Bunu, John Vlismas, Lazola Gola, Schalk Bezuidenhout, Yaaseen Barnes, Nina Hastie and David Kau, among others. Other talents include Nigerian star Basketmouth, Ugandan comedian Salvado and Zimbabwe’s Carl Joshua Ncube.

"South Africa has felt somewhat of a comedy outpost for years, with occasional bursts of sympathetic attention," said Vlismas. "The Comedy Central International Comedy Festival provides a huge window for South African comedy, and it's exciting that major comedy figures like Jeff Ross and this Trevor Noah guy are coming to work with locals.  Either that, or their careers have tanked so hard that they have to work Krugersdorp." Krugersdrop is a mining city in South Africa's Gauteng province.
"Our industry is growing exponentially. I know that because I did higher-grade Wiskunde [mathematics]). I can't wait for this festival. It's one of the many events this year that will change South African comedy forever!" said Bezuidenhout.

"Part of the mission of VIMN is to create glocal content that resonates and is relevant in both local and international markets, while at the same time becoming the home for comedic genius around the world," Raffaele Annecchino, executive vp and managing director, South Europe, Africa and Middle East at VIMN, tells THR. "The Comedy Central International Comedy Festival in South Africa will clearly demonstrate this commitment and our expertise as we bring comedians from all over Africa together with internationally-renowned talent from abroad for more than a week of world-class comedy events. My objective this year is to create content that can travel more and more across different regions and this festival is a good example."

The festival is executive produced by Comedy Central (Africa) in association with creative director and South African comedy producer Ryan Harduth.

"As we celebrate Viacom International Media Networks Africa’s 10th anniversary, we are excited to launch this definitive comedy festival on the continent," said Alex Okosi, senior vp and managing director, VIMN Africa. "The Comedy Central International Comedy Festival provides a great platform for African and international comedians to showcase their amazing talent to comedy fans."